Hildi Froese Tiessen

The Conrad Grebel Review 17, no. 2 (Spring 1999)

An excerpt from Andreas Schroeder’s novella “Eating My Father’s Island” appeared in the second issue of Rhubarb: Published by the Mennonite Literary Society. What follows here are chapters two and four of Schroeder’s fourteenchapter yarn which provides an account, in the author’s inimitable story-telling mode, of the often bewildering clash of dream and reality in the lives of a Mennonite refugee family in the post-World War II Canadian west.

At the beginning of the story Reinhard Niebuhr, the narrator’s father, finds himself, remarkably, to have won “an island in the sun,” the first prize in a contest he has entered unwittingly, thanks to the rather zealous initiative of an “English” sewing machine repairman he’s happened to meet. “Entering a contest,” the narrator remarks in chapter one, “a worldly contest, an English contest, had to be considered, for a Mennonite, very poor form. Not one of the Seven Deadly Sins, not enough to be mentioned from the pulpit on Sunday morning, but nevertheless: an undeniable instance of flawed moral judgement.”

The incongruous fact of this poor refugee’s owning an island richly colors–in one way or another–various episodes in the life of his immigrant family. The two chapters that follow here introduce the narrator’s father and mother in the context of their respective home communities. During the course of their lives–and during the course of this story–they will negotiate, with palpable measures of grace and good luck, the peculiar mixture of idyll and albatross father’s island comes to represent.

Author note

Andreas Schroeder was born in Hoheneggelsen, Germany shortly after the second world war, and immigrated to Canada with his family at the age of five. He has been founder and editor of The Journal of Contemporary Literature in Translation (1968-80) and chairman of the Writers’ Union of Canada (1976-77); he is chiefly responsible for the institution of Public Lending Rights in Canada. Schroeder’s publications include several volumes of poems; The Late Man (Sono Nis, 1972), a collection of stories; Dustship Glory (Doubleday, 1986), a novel; and, most recently, two collections of creative non-fiction: Scams, Scandals and Skulduggery (McClelland and Stewart, 1996) and Fakes, Frauds and Flimflammery (McClelland and Stewart, 1999). He can be heard on CBC Radio many Saturday mornings, regaling radio show host Arthur Black and their listeners across Canada with unlikely (but true) tales that are sure to raise many an eyebrow.

Hildi Froese Tiessen, Literary Editor