The relation of land and faith in a selection of Mennonite novels
Goossen, Carol Elizabeth Enns
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In literature we are provided with portraits of people's lives, both individual and communal. We are invited into the world of the author's creation to experience how life was and is lived, and we are urged to perceive the myriad forces of culture, history, and faith which shape human self-understanding and world view. From our excursions into these other worlds, we can derive meanings about the nature of our own human existence. With these thoughts as my starting point, it is my intention in this thesis to examine a selection of Mennonite fiction for each author's presentation of the Mennonites' faith and religious life. In particular, I will focus on the relation of land and faith in Mennonite experience. I have chosen four historical novels written by Mennonites about Mennonite life. The books are organized in chronological sequence according to date of publication. In this order, they form a spectrum of Mennonite life spananing roughly fifty years of Mennonite history. (1) The first selection, A Russian Dance of Death, by Dietrich Neufeld, is set in Russia in the early 1920's. The book, though not strictly fiction nor a novel, relates the experiences of the Mennonite colonists who, after 120 years of peaceful and prosperous existence, suddenly experience the collapse of their world in the upheaval of the Russian Revolution and the terrorist activities of Nestor Makhno and his bandits. The story of No Strangers in Exile, by Hans Harder, occurs about ten years after the events depicted in A Russian Dance of Death. The novel portrays the lives of a small group of Mennonites who are exiled from their ancestral home in the Volga region to a labor camp in Russia's far north. In Peace Shall Destroy Many, by Rudy Wiebe, the setting shifts from Russia in the 1920's and 30's to Canada in the early 1940's. This novel focuses on the lives of a small community of Mennonites, the older generation of which has emigrated from Revolution-torn Russia. The community has, to some extent, re-established a peaceful existence in the bushland of Northern Saskatchewan...