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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars No old country for Mykolayenko
I'll be honest, I had reservations. The old cliché you should never judge a book by its cover is always a questionable one. Covers can say so much. The soft, light tones of the landscape on the cover of Under This Unbroken Sky politely whisper 'sentimental, romantic drama', long grass dancing gently in the foreground, two birds drifting in the sky above. And then...
Published on 24 Nov 2009 by possessed.by.a.lemon

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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Far too depressing for me
There's no doubt that this is a well-written and thought-provoking book, but I'm afraid it wasn't for me. I found it so depressing that I actually felt it was bringing my mood down when I was reading it. It's the story of a Ukranian family who have escaped the rule of Stalin to move to Canada, but even that doesn't work out when the father of the family is imprisoned...
Published on 15 May 2010 by Nicola in South Yorkshire


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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars No old country for Mykolayenko, 24 Nov 2009
By 
possessed.by.a.lemon - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Under This Unbroken Sky (Hardcover)
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I'll be honest, I had reservations. The old cliché you should never judge a book by its cover is always a questionable one. Covers can say so much. The soft, light tones of the landscape on the cover of Under This Unbroken Sky politely whisper 'sentimental, romantic drama', long grass dancing gently in the foreground, two birds drifting in the sky above. And then there's the author's name. Shandi. Shandy? Well, that's just a substitute drink for when you can't take the real thing, is it not? The PR draws comparisons with the likes of John Steinbeck and Cormac McCarthy, and these could easily end up as unflattering ones. But, nope, this is the real deal and another cliché quickly replaces the old one - I couldn't put this book down.

Under This Unbroken Sky is a gripping tale well told. A brave, confident and uncompromising debut from a new voice surely destined for great things. For me the first half of the book is all about character. The character of the two central Ukrainian immigrant families and even more so the character of the Canadian Prairies where they find a new home. Protagonist Theo Mykolayenko cultivates and renews this land, but it also transforms the families. And then around halfway through, THWACK, a torrent of blows batters you and doesn't let up until the final page. Each turn of events more devastating than the last, fearlessly addressed by Mitchell in the most brutal of terms.

I believe a key ingredient to a classic novel is to leave the reader feeling somewhat empty and lost after finishing it. Under This Unbroken Sky had such an effect on me and I was compelled to return to the opening chapter with hindsight in tow. A book for all seasons, I can't wait for the next one.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A rare 5 stars from me, 14 Jan 2010
By 
Mr Gumby "DH" (UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Under This Unbroken Sky (Hardcover)
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The author spent her childhood on the Canadian Prairies, so is well-qualified to write a book set there.

Teodor Mykolayenko and his family escape from the Ukraine under Stalin to start a new life on the Prairies. They endeavour to make a living, working as hard as possible, but people and events conspire to make their circumstances even tougher, the authorities and extended family doing their best to undermine their efforts.

The story is so well told that I felt I knew the family personally. The author has an unusual, rather abrupt writing style that I thoroughly enjoyed. She does a wonderful job of painting life in a tough environment. The book may be distressing in places, but it's compelling too, gripping from the start.

I have never said this before in a book review, so it is no cliché for me, but I couldn't put it down and had to read straight through, completely absorbed.

This is a book you mustn't miss. It's brilliant. Roll on the next one.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A stunning read., 2 April 2010
By 
C. Colley (Lincs) - See all my reviews
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This descriptive story follows a Ukranian immigrant family on the Canadian Prairies in 1938. Having survived Stalin's labour camp, the Mykolayenko family face another struggle, trying to survive the cruel but beautiful landscape of rural Canada.

Theo Mykolayenko returns to his family after a year spent in prison. Along with his wife and children, Theo works relentlessly to build up the family homestead. Theo's hard work could be in vain due to the return of his brother-in-law, Stefan. Stefan is hell-bent on ruining their lives and taking it all away.

I really loved this story and particularly liked the setting and the slow menacing plot. The ending is tragic and unforgettable.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars really powerful novel, 26 Nov 2009
By 
Celtes (wales, uk) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Under This Unbroken Sky (Hardcover)
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Shandi Mitchell's novel tells the tale of an immigrant Ukranian family living and working in Canada. The book follows the struggles of Teodor, his sister and neighbour Anna, and their families as they work the land and try to earn a living in the harsh Canadian Prairies.
Teodor returns to his wife and family at the beginning of the novel following time in prison for stealing his own grain. All appears to be going relatively well until the return of his alcoholic brother-in-law, Stefan. His return leads to tragedy... not only for Teodor and his family but for Stefan's own family also.

I found this book an extremely interesting and powerful read. I think it spoke to me on a very deep level as I myself am from a farming family. Sadly, I was able to relate to many of the issues of working together so closely as a family and the conflicts that arise from this situation. This book portrays aspects of the farming family life that are relevant- even in today's society. The conflict between the hard- working Teodor and his arrogant, alcoholic, delusional brother-in-law is wonderfully portrayed. As a reader, and through my own personal experiences, I could feel Teodor's frustration and despair as Stefan tried to steal all that he had worked for.

All the characters in the novel are very well portrayed but it is the characters of Stefan and his son, Petro, that are terrifyingly real to me. Petro's need to please his father and his delusional desire to be like him stands out to me personally as such a terribly tragic part of this novel. I think the author's skills are shown here as the reader is left feeling both anger and pity towards the young boy.

The setting of this book is described beautifully. You can feel the harshness of the Canadian seasons and the isolation that these two families must feel. The author touches upon the political aspects of the era, with regards the Ukrainian immigrations, but it is not rammed down the reader's throat. There is enough background to give an understanding of the situation and the characters, but not too much that it detracts from their present situations.

I'll admit that I cried at the end of this novel! It was so beautifully written and so powerful, but more than anything it spoke to me on such a personal level- despite being set decades in the past and on another continent. I love this book but due to it's tragic nature I would find it very hard to read often.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful, haunting, wonderful, 10 Mar 2010
By 
L. Cooney (York, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Under This Unbroken Sky (Hardcover)
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Under This Unbroken Sky is the story of the pioneer Teodor Mykolayenko and his family - wife Maria, several children, and sister Anna and her family - as they attempt to make new lives for themselves in America. However, when their past catches up with them, everything slowly and unstoppably begins to crumble around them, destroying their dreams and their chance for a new start...

First of all, you can tell Mitchell is a daughter of the prairies - she paints that flat endless landscape so vividly I almost felt I'd been transported to 19th century Canada. It's an oppressive world, but her hands it stays with you as this empty world, initially full of potential and possibilities but quickly coming to represent the oppressive tragedies which draw the family and the reader into their grasp. Her language when she talks about her characters, especially as the novel races towards its terrible but unstoppable and gripping conclusion, is equally stark. This is not an author who pulls her punches. The Mykolayenkos' lives are hard, and Mitchell wants us to know that. Scenes such as the killing of one child's favourite hen, which is loved despite being unlike the others, are absolutely heartrending in their brutal necessity, done out of love but still horribly fraught.

But it is the souls of the most promiment members of her ensemble cast - the women and the children - which shines through this novel. The tenacity of Maria (in comparison to her sister Anna, who has all but despaired of life with her brutal husband Stefan), her work ethic and tenacity in the face of dark times, lack of money and another mouth to feed, as well as her attempts to instill such philosophies in her niece and nephew, as well as in her children, are truly admirable, making every further hardside they face increasingly unbearable for the reader as one wills them to succeed just once. Comparisons have been drawn with Cormac McCarthy and John Steinbeck, but for me, the echoes of the book were strongly reminiscent of the earlier parts of Peter Carey's True History of the Kelly Gang, for the compassion and will to survive that Maria and Ned's mother demonstrate, in contrast to their despairing husbands behind the prison walls.

In short: A harrowing, wonderful novel that will stay with you long after the final page.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sad, sweeping tale of human survival, 13 Jan 2010
By 
Mrs. J. Jones "janejones" (Chester) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Under This Unbroken Sky (Hardcover)
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Reading this in the worst winter weather for 25 years brought the story of the Ukrainian immigrants in a freezing Canadian countryside even more vivid. However, Shandi Mitchell's ability to portray the rigours of the wild countryside are not limited to the winter, she equally describes the wild fires and mosquito-infested summers so powerfully you could be right there with the family.

Theo and Maria have escaped the dangers and horrors of Stalinist eastern Europe on the promise of farms in Canada in the 1930s. Their hopes and dreams are dashed however when they fall foul of the petty bureaucracy and mean spiritedness of Canadian officials and police. Theo survives a year in a brutal jail for the crime of making his own home brew. When he returns to his family, who have also survived thanks to the resourcefulness of Maria, he turns wild countryside into a working farm. He builds their cabin, ploughs the land and grows the wheat, assisted by his adolescent son Miron. Meanwhile his sister Anna, married to the feckless and crooked Stefan, reneges on the arrangment which should have secured Theo's family's home and tragedy results.

Mitchell's characters are so real you could hug them, from the children to the adults they are living breathing individuals. The story is exceptionally well told with breathtaking detail and emotion. My only regret was the sad ending, I would really have loved to have seen them overcome the odds which have been stacked against them for so long.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Heart Rending, 10 Jan 2010
By 
Richard M. Seel (Norfolk UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Under This Unbroken Sky (Hardcover)
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It is difficult to believe that this is Mitchell's first book, the writing is clear, strong and carries the reader along, wanting to know what happens next. The fact that she makes films clearly influences her style of writing and she paints with broad brush strokes. The countryside is so clearly visible in the mind from Mitchell's descriptions and the harshness that faced new families wish to live there.

The preface almost tells the story but in such a way that one wants to read more and find out what happened to this family. A family who love each other dearly and care for the husband's sister and children whilst their father is drinking in town and dreaming dreams of what might be but never will be. A family who pull together and want to make a success of their new life. A family who work hard in a country where only the fittest survive but despair enters in when they thought they were succeeding; when a fire of such intensity burnt their crops and then the cold and snow nearly finishes them. And central to the story is the sister who loves unwisely, relies on her brother but in the end she, her husband and their son betray him.

I felt such sadness that there was no happy ending for these two families who escaped from Stalin and his crimes in the Ukraine - hoping for a new life but beaten by circumstances.

I thoroughly recommend this book
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Far too depressing for me, 15 May 2010
By 
Nicola in South Yorkshire "nicola_in_southyorks" (UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Under This Unbroken Sky (Hardcover)
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There's no doubt that this is a well-written and thought-provoking book, but I'm afraid it wasn't for me. I found it so depressing that I actually felt it was bringing my mood down when I was reading it. It's the story of a Ukranian family who have escaped the rule of Stalin to move to Canada, but even that doesn't work out when the father of the family is imprisoned for keeping some of his own grain. Here begins a story of immense sadness, with very little light relief to be found.

As I say, there's no doubt it's well-written and lots of people have loved this book, but it just didn't do anything for me.

Off to read something more upbeat now!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Breathtaking story of a family struggling to survive, 1 Feb 2010
By 
Janie U (Kings Cliffe, England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Under This Unbroken Sky (Hardcover)
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The story is based on a family in the 1930s living in the Canadian prairies. It is a dark book, life is hard and the surroundings are miserable. The narrative is soaked with an atmosphere of struggle along with a sinister undercurrent which gradually builds as you keep reading.
The descriptive language used is beautiful and I found that I could visualise every leaf, flake of snow and calloused finger that appears in the story.
I particularly enjoyed the changes of pace throughout the book - at times the world had almost stopped turning due to the reflection in the writing - at other times I found my breath being taken away with the speed of the plot, so much so that I had to back track and read some sections again.
When I first picked up the book I was unsure whether the decision to have few defined chapters was good but I think it seemed to work with the continuing battles - a life like this does not separate easily into chapters.
The best measure of this book is that I did not want to put it down and could have carried on reading it for much longer.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Don't think about it for long just dive in!, 23 Dec 2009
By 
D. W. Miller "dmiller945" (England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Under This Unbroken Sky (Hardcover)
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This story is a superbly crafted tale of the struggles of Ukrainian immigrants as they try to start a new life for themselves on the Canadian Prairies. At first I thought that this book might not have much to say to me living a comfortable life in a relatively safe land but as soon as I started it I began to feel the strength of the main character as he met his challenges.
I could write much more about the flow of the story itself but I guess that many other reviewers will have already done that. It offers a study of family conflicts and frames that wonderfully within the harsh environment of this part of Canada.So suffice it to say that I was totally absorbed in this book and its main personalities and would highly recommend it to anybody who appreciates fine writing.
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Under This Unbroken Sky
Under This Unbroken Sky by Shandi Mitchell (Hardcover - 27 Aug 2009)
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