Moose Jaw Times Herald Review - Wild Rose
Reviewed by: Lisa Goudy
Delving into her prairie roots
Sask.-born author Sharon Butala is returning for the Festival of Words
Author Sharon Butala’s family members have been pioneers ever since first coming to Canada in 1647.
“Women were all pioneers and they were not the stereotype of the pioneer women. They were not willing to take on men’s work. They didn’t build houses and break horses and all that sort of thing, which is one stereotype,” she said.
“On the other side they were not doormats and slaves who were endlessly having babies. They were proud, dignified, capable and intelligent women who had as much courage as the men did and worked as hard in the universe that they had that was theirs and I wanted to pay tribute to those women.”
Butala, born in Nipawin and raised in Saskatchewan until moving to Calgary after her husband’s death in 2007, did plenty of research for her latest fiction book, ‘Wild Rose,’ which was recently shortlisted for a 2016 Saskatchewan Book Award.
“Really what sparked it was when I found out through research for ‘Lilac Moon’ and I don’t know how many other of my non-fiction books that Western Canadian women had been systemically stripped of any kind of equal rights with men,” said Butala.
Under the Dominion Lands Act in 1872, women couldn’t get fee land the same way men could. In 1886, they were stripped of their dower rights, which had previously ensured their husband couldn’t do anything he desired with the land without his wife’s consent, which also meant women weren’t “kicked out in the prairie with nothing to eat,” said Butala.
“(It) protected them also by leaving them some right to his land when he died that he couldn’t just will it away,” she added. “They lost the dower rights (and) they were unprotected in the western universe. It was appalling.”
Combined with her desire to honour the women in her family, the idea for ‘Wild Rose’ was born. The novel follows a young woman who comes from Quebec with her husband and their three-year-old son. However, he abandons her.
“It’s the story of how she makes her way. She doesn’t go back to Quebec - there are reasons why she would never do that - and she doesn’t give up and marry the first man who comes along,” said Butala. “(There were) prostitutes who came out west into this all-male society to make a better living and that was always an option, not one you talked about but it was there if you were desperate enough and hungry enough and if you had kids to feed.
“So it’s the story of how she just dug in her heels and gritted her jaws and went to work.”
Now the author of 17 books and six plays will be coming back to Moose Jaw for the 20th annual Saskatchewan Festival of Words from July 14 to 17.
“I’m excited, not just because it’ll be fun, but also because I’ll come back to the Prairies again,” said Butala. “At the Moose Jaw festival there’s a feeling of egalitarianism that I just love and I love the audience. All these people who come from all over the province and listen to writers from their own western universe is just very moving and satisfying to me.”
In March 2015, she spent two weeks in Tel Aviv in Israel for the launch of the Hebrew translation of her book, ‘Saskatchewan.’
“My Israeli publisher, this is Marenga Publishing, are great world travellers. They were both born in Israel. Their families have been there since the ‘20s and ‘30s,” said Butala. “They like Canada and spent some time in Canada, a bit of every year, I don’t know for how long, I never asked that question, but the publisher became very interested in Canadian literature and decided she wanted to branch out and publish some Canadians.
“So somehow, I don’t know how, she found me and that’s how it happened. Isn’t that wonderful?”
Early bird festival passes are available for $175 and can be purchased at the Saskatchewan Festival of Words office. As of June 1, 2016, the pass is $200. Flex passes for individual sessions are available for $100.
For more information, visit www.festivalofwords or call 306-691-0557.