Thursday, February 23, 2017

Unearthed, A Memoir


Unearthed, A Memoir: Love, Acceptance and Other Lessons from an Abandoned Garden by Alexandra Risen

On my way into town recently, listening to The Next Chapter on CBC Radio One, I listened to a book review and in the 10 minutes that it took to reach the library, I was convinced I needed to read it. Luckily for me, there it was sitting on the shelf and I checked it out a few minutes later. 

The review, by the way, was so excellent because the person giving it was Antanas Sileika, an author and Director of the Humber School for Writers. He knows whereof he speaks regarding both writing and landscaping, being himself the owner of a large property.

Listen here: The Next Chapter. It's approximately 10 min. long and see if you don't also feel compelled to read this book.

About 10 years ago Alexandra Risen and her husband Cam bought a property in downtown Toronto with a large backyard backing onto a ravine. This back garden is so large, so overgrown and so neglected that they can barely walk back there without a machete in hand. Slowly they discover the delights that await under the masses of foliage and although there are definite problems, the steepness of the pitch and the difficulty in disposing of dead trees, yard waste and other debris, finding the right people willing to do the work the way they want and so on, they eventually reclaim the space and turn it into something really special.

While in the process of uncovering and recovering the garden, Alexandra, the daughter of Ukrainian immigrants who arrived in western Canada around 1950 enters into a journey of discovery of her family. Her parents, particularly her dad, were deeply traumatized by the end of WWII, never really recovering to bring up two daughters in any kind of "normal" way. As the book opens, her dad has just passed away and Alexandra, resentful of the lack of fatherly warmth in her upbringing is working her way through understanding and making sense of it all. At the same time, her elderly mother's health is declining, resulting in difficult decisions for Alexandra and her older sister. 

The difficulties are many, but Alexandra is of strong Ukrainian stock and she rises to the challenges, taming her garden and coming to a better understanding her family. The entire book is a delight, from the attractive front cover to the detailed map of the garden to the self-deprecating stories the author tells about herself. I really enjoyed reading it.