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Birdsell, Sandra.

Winnipeg. Turnstone Press, c 1982. 182pp, paper, $6.95, ISBN 0-88801-072-9. CIP

Grades 12 and up
Reviewed by Ruth Cosstick

Volume 13 Number 5
1985 September

The Lafrenieres of rural Manitoba are the "night travellers" whose darkly burdened lives are related by various members of the family. Apathy, resentment, and aggression seem to be foremost as their stories unfold within a humourless, largely despairing atmosphere. Maurice, the father is a Métis who has rejected his background. He becomes a temporary hero of sorts during one of the devastating river floods, as his predictions about the course of the deluge prove to be true. "Old Man River" they called him then, the only time he did not feel like an outsider in the community.

Maurice was "aware of all his children's problems, coming inevitably in one shape or another over the years, and never without feeling guilty, of somehow being responsible. Because of this, he had never interfered with what Mika did when it came to the children." Mika, his German-Mennonite wife, seems unable to transcend her own joyless existence to envisage anything better for her children. She bitterly anticipates the pain and disappointment that will be repeated in the lives of her daughters. Truda is the only one of the Lafrenieres to rise above the inertia of "what will be will be" when she decides to postpone marriage in order to study fine arts. As a seven year old, she had been sent away for safety from the flood, and because of the mud, rain, and her mother's annual pregnancy, been forced to spend six miserable months away from her family. It is thought her eyes had been permanently damaged from the floods of lonely tears she shed during that time. Her only solace had been paper and crayons.

Some of the thirteen stories have been published elsewhere. Each one can stand on its own as an acute portrayal of one prairie family. Their dreams are pierced by reality, their future shadowed by their past as the Indian, French, and German heritage is combined and submerged in a generation that flows on like the silent, muddy river that borders their lives. Night Travellers is realistically evocative of the period. Suitable for high school and beyond.

Ruth Cosstick, Ottawa, Ont.
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