Out Of This Earth – Rudy Wiebe

October 21, 2008

Another blast from the past!

Here is my review of Rudy Wiebe’s childhood memoir, Of This Earth. This article appeared in the winter of 2006 courtesy of the nice folks at Regent College, which puts out Crux as its quarterly journal.

My review was formally accepted for publication some time in 2006, although the Crux people never told me when it would appear. So in January or February 2007, I cornered Crux’s book review editor. He looked confused. He apologized and told me about the backlog of reviews, recalling how one Regent faculty member was on his case to get a review to print.

It turned out that my review was already in print! I felt kind of bad about that when I found out.

For any of you who haven’t heard of Wiebe, he is a two-time winner of the Governer General Award for fiction and a member of the Order of Canada.

Wiebe’s fiction generally flows from two historical founts: his own Russian Mennonite ancestry and Western Canadian First Nations history. Wiebe began writing stories growing out of his Mennonite upbringing. Peace Shall Destroy Many (1962), Wiebe’s first book, caused no small amount of friction in the Mennonite community.

In the early 1970s, Wiebe increasingly turned his attention to the then-untold stories of aboriginal Canadians, including the Cree Chief Big Bear and the Metis leader, Louis Riel. While this strand of Wiebe’s work has been criticized by some as imperialistic, it has also won him his highest acclaim. In his own defense, Wiebe points out that when he began telling these stories, there was little literary interest in aboriginal fiction. In critical literature, the ‘exploitative’ label hasn’t stuck because Wiebe’s own place in the peripheral Mennonite community. Some critics describe his work as “post-colonial.”

I’ve long been an advocate for Wiebe because he attempts to come to grips with the meaning of Jesus in the modern world. He is also from western Canada, my traditional stomping grounds. One of my favourite episodes of Wiebe’s fiction comes in a humourous and tragic moment of ‘magical realism‘ in The Blue Mountains of China (1973). Wiebe tells the story of Samuel Reimer, a humble farmer who receives a prophetic, audible message from God to go preach peace in Vietnam. Reimer is understandibly met with incredulity and stubbornness. The fact that Reimer’s community springs from the pacifist Anabaptist tradition makes the episode truly devastating.

Anyway, Wiebe’s recent memoir of life in northern, northern, northern Saskatchewan is a marvellous piece of literary non-fiction and a return to the earth which spawned his career. But don’t take my word for it. Read it.


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