Owen Sound Sun Times Review - Blood and Salt

Owen Sound Sun Times
Reviewed by: Andrew Armitage

When I get something new from Regina's Coteau Books I usually pay extra attention. In the recent past, Coteau has consistently meant quality. I first ran into Barbara Sapergia with her last novel, Dry, which was set in a near-future Canada during an agonizing time of the dramatic climate change.

She returns with Blood and Salt, a dystopian novel that takes readers back to 1915 when more than 8,000 mostly Ukrainian Canadians were interned in forced-labour settlements. The scene is the Castle Mountain Banff Interment Camp where Taras Kalyna will spend the next few years, lacking food in freezing conditions, working to clear the way for Trans-Canada Highway and condemned for being a citizen of Austria. At night in the bunkhouse, stories are told. As a narrative device, it works well. Not only does Taras review his life for fellow prisoners, his friend, Myro, tells the separate but connected story of another Taras, Taras Shevchenko, painter, poet, and champion of a free Ukraine.

It is through storytelling that Canada's First World War gulag becomes a realistic fact, a heart-breaking passage of time dyed by shame, suspicion and secrets. While much is known about the Japanese-Canadian internments of the Second World War (remember Joy Kogawa's Obasan ?), few today realize that immigrants lured to the country by the promise of free land became victims of the time. How do I know? The men in Blood and Salt explain, 'That's how stories work.'

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