Tuesday, March 30, 2010

When We Get There

Seliy, Shauna. When We Get There. New York: Bloomsbury, 2007.

Submitted by R. Stuhr

In her first novel, Shauna Seliy, writes about a coal mining community in Pennsylvania, set some time before today, but after the Viet Nam war. As you can imagine, it is hard times in the community with both tragic accidents from the coal mines in its past, and economic decline as the last coal mines close in its present and future. In many ways, this community is shielded from time and the outside world. The Eastern European backgrounds of the members of this community transcend politics and pop culture. Seliy focuses specifically on four generations of a family, the first generation of which came from Russia and Hungary. 13 year old Lucas has lost his father in a coal mine accident and his mother has disappeared. He is being cared for by his grandmother. The family's patriarch, Lucas's great grandfather, goes into a steep decline as he loses control of the family and in particular, as a symbolic pear tree is set on fire by someone outside the family. As the great grandfather sickens, it becomes clear that he expects young Lucas to take some responsibility for the farm. Lucas is more intent on finding his mother than doing anything to keep the family together, but as the novel progresses, Lucas gains insight into his family and his place within the family. The novel is colored by the use of bits of Russian language and elements of Russian and Orthodox culture. Seliy includes a tinge of magical realism -- enough to add to the outside the rest of the world character of the setting, but not so much as to overcome the delicate progress or message of the novel.

Burling Library, Smith Memorial. PS 3619 .E465 W47 2007.

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