Prairie Fire Review - Nettie's Journey

Reviewed by: Donna Gamache

Nettie's Journey by Adele Dueck is part of a new series for young adult readers entitled From Many Peoples. This four-book series was developed by Coteau Books as part of Saskatchewan's Centennial, with the aim of showing life in the province from the viewpoint of young people of different cultural groups.

The story begins with Lisa asking her grandmother to describe her early life in Russia and to explain why she came to Saskatchewan. Nettie's Journey is the story she tells Lisa, although the title is somewaht misleading, since the actual journey occurs only at the very end of the book.

Nattie Paul's story begins in August 1916 in western Ukraine where seven-year-old Nettie lives with her family. The Pauls are Mennonites whose ancestors had moved from Germany to Russia more than one hundred years before, on the promise of being able to keep their own churches, schools, language and freedom from military service. But now war rages in western Europe, and though it seems far away to Nettie, it will have a big effect on her life.

The story opens with the wedding of Liese, Nettie's older sister. Liese gives Nettie a hand-sewn diary, and the author uses diary entries as the starting point for each chapter. The diary and Nettie's story cover the period from 1916 until the summer of 1923, when 14-year-old Nettie and her family emigrate to Saskatchewan.

The author skillfully manages the maturing viewpoint as Nettie grows older and is able to understand more fully what is happening around her. The war and the Russian Revolution, as well as drought, bring hard times and changes to Ukraine and to Nettie's family. Her village is frequently plundered by bandits and several different armies but because her father is a techer, one of the "landless Mennonites," the bandits often assume that he has little money or possessions and sometimes pass them by. Nettie's best friend, however, comes from a wealthier family, which is robbed several times, and eventually they leave the village. Nettie's oldest brother joins one of the armies and then comes down with typhus. Her father, suffering from the after effects of a stroke, eventually loses his job when the school closes. Food, money and medical help are all scarce, and the family struggles to survive while keeping their Mennonite principles and heritage. Eventually help comes from Canada, in the form of food and sponsorship to emigrate.

Nettie's Journey, inspired by the actual life of Nettie Pauls Dueck, is a riveting story. Adele Dueck has managed to weave in many historical and cultural details without overwhelming a young reader. A glossary translates Mennonite terms and explains some historical details. A teacher's manual is also available on the website (www.coteaubooks.com/frommanypeoples.html)

Although aimed at children from eight to twelve, this book is a good story for older students and adults as well. Adults who have read Sandra Birdsell's book The Russländer will note the similar historical background, and those with Mennonite heritage will find it especially interesting.

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