A 60-year-old photograph of a woman and her son is slipped through a mail slot and changes Torontonian Eva Chown's life. The boy in the photo looks exactly like Eva's 11-year-old son, an unnerving sight that marks the be ginning of the fortysomething woman's journey into unknown territory. That terri tory is both physical and psychic: in her search for the link between the pair in the photograph and herself, Eva travels to Ukraine, where she unearths family secrets and cultural roots. But The Green Library, Janice Kulyk Keefer's fourth novel and ninth book, is hardly a typical discover-yourheritage tale. Kulyk Keefer-the Torontoborn daughter of Ukrainian immigrants who now lives near Guelph, Ont.-sets her self the daunting task of chronicling a halfcentury of Ukrainian history and the trauma of dislocation for the immigrants who ended up in Canada after the Second World War. And in tracing the tangled threads that bind two families-Eva's privileged Rosedale household and the immigrant family her father once employed-she weaves a tale of love and betrayal as intricate as the embroi
dery on a Slavic shawl. For Eva, the disturb ing photo has the effect of jolting her from an inauthentic life, a life in which she was "becom ing nothing but a raffle with a pea-sized heart." She travels to Kievthe home, she has dis covered, of her biologi cal father and grand mother. Her half-senile mother, Holly Chown, has admitted to a brief affair with what used to be called a "DP," a displaced person, who fathered Eva-the grown version of the boy in the photo. But it is Olya, a Ukrainian immigrant who once worked as Holly's cleaning woman, who identifies his motherEva's grandmotheras a dissident Ukrain ian poet executed in 1941 at Babi Yar. Olya also puts Eva in touch with Alex, her grown son in Kiev. Eva once had an erotic encounter with the adolescent
Alex, before he returned with his father to Ukraine, and the charged memory of it runs like a current through her. Kulyk Keefer pieces the narrative togeth er like bits of a puzzle. She shifts back and forth across five decades and two conti nents and changes the point of view among at least seven different characters. What emerges is a portrait of a people reeling from one horrific tragedy to the next under a series of foreign occupiers, including the Bolsheviks and the Nazis. But Keefer is no blind patriot: Eva's crash course in Ukrain ian history includes anti-Semitism, po groms and murderous internal politics. In the end, instead of reclaiming a lost her itage, Eva feels both alienated in Kiev and unmoored from Canada. The novel is flawed: the frequent shifts of voice sometimes disrupt its flow. And Kulyk Keefer relies too much on coinci dence to propel the story. But the author's lyrical prose, full of startling metaphors and sensual imagery, is pure pleasure. Like the shaded park in Kiev-the "green library" where her doomed grandmother read and where she eventually met her be trayer-Kulyk Keefer's new work delights and disturbs.
The story you want is part of the Maclean’s Archives. To access it, log in here or sign up for your free 30-day trial.
Experience anything and everything Maclean's has ever published — over 3,500 issues and 150,000 articles, images and advertisements — since 1905. Browse on your own, or explore our curated collections and timely recommendations.WATCH THIS VIDEO for highlights of everything the Maclean's Archives has to offer.