Mennonites & Migration: Book Launch for Dr. Rob Zacharias


On Friday, January 17th, there will be a book launch for Rewriting the Break Event: Mennonites & Migration in Canadian Literature by UWaterloo post-doctoral fellow Dr. Rob Zacharias. It will be held at Conrad Grebel College, Room 1301, from 12:30-1:30. No RSVP required.

From the Publisher:

Despite the fact that Russian Mennonites began arriving in Canada en masse in the 1870s, much Canadian Mennonite literature has been characterized by a compulsive telling and retelling of the fall of the Mennonite Commonwealth of the 1920s and its subsequent migration of 20,000 Russian Mennonites to Canada. This privileging of a seminal dispersal, or “break event,” within the broader historic narrative has come to function as a mythological beginning or origin story for the Russian Mennonite community in Canada, and serves as a means of affirming a communal identity across national and generational boundaries.

Drawing on recent work in diaspora studies, Rewriting the Break Event offers close readings of five novels that retell the Mennonite break event through specific narrative strains, including religious narrative (Al Reimer’s My Harp is Turned to Mourning), ethnic narrative (Arnold Dyck’s Lost in the Steppe), trauma narrative (Sandra Birdsell’s The Russländer), and meta-narrative (Rudy Wiebe’s Blue Mountains of China). The result is an exciting new methodology through which to examine not only the shifting contours of Mennonite collective identity but also the discourse of migrant and minoritized writing in Canada.

“Anyone interested in the history, scope, and reception of ‘Mennonite/s Writing’ in Canada must read this book. This timely, comprehensive, and insightful work richly informs our reading of Canadian Mennonite literary texts and offers a comprehensive survey of the emergence of a modern Mennonite collective memory. At the same time, it places Mennonite literature in the context of Canadian migration fiction, trauma theory, and diaspora studies. A wonderful book from an exciting new voice.”

– Hildi Froese Tiessen, Professor Emerita, Conrad Grebel University College

“The stories that remain in the wake of a violence so great it breaks and scatters a community are stories that must be repeated. Zacharias traces the shape and function of such crisis narratives in five Canadian novels that recount the destruction of Mennonite colonies in southern Imperial Russia (present-day Ukraine). His judicious study shows how literature can sustain communal memory, construct ethnic identity, and serve or subvert national agendas.”

– Julia Spicher Kasdorf, Pennsylvania State University, author of The Body and the Book: Writing from a Mennonite Life


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