CM Archive
CM Archive Book Review line

Wiebe, Armin.

Winnipeg, Turnstone Press, c1984. 176pp, paper, $7.95, ISBN 0-88801-084-2. CIP

Grades 11 and up
Reviewed by Patrick Dunn

Volume 13 Number 6
1985 November

The Salvation of Yasch Siemens is a remarkable work, remarkable in many ways, not the least of which is the fact that it introduces a culture, or an aspect of a culture, little written about until now by the Canadian literati. Armin Wiebe does for Gutenthal, a composite village drawn from the Mennonite farming communities of southern Manitoba, what Stephen Leacock did for Mariposa and its inhabitants. The results are similarly uproarious and touching, side-splittingly anarchic and wistful.

Wiebe's writing is utterly endearing, genuinely funny. In large measure this is due to his brilliant use of flat German syntax in Yasch's stream of consciousness narration. The narrative itself is a wondrous amalgam, a rich admixture of flat German names, words and phrases, and English. Witness Yasch helping his mother to the outhouse after she has put her back out, Nuttachi hangs her arm around my shoulder and I help her outside to the beckhouse there between the washline and the sugar trees. When I have her seated on the left hole, she says, *Oh, thousand, I have the Steinbach Post forgotten. Please it to me bring. Leave open the door. Then I can see who goes by.

Yasch, "the oabeida, the knecht, the hired man," is, in fact, a bucolic Candide, a pastoral Rasselas. His innocence, his truly naive perspective exposes hypocrisy and pretension whenever they appear. Waiting for an appointment with the "rightmaker," Knibble Thiessen, Yaseh notices "that he has grown a beard to hide the place where he should have a chin and he is wearing oil in his hair." The episode, which has Yasch and Oata, his two-hundred-pound, self-appointed sweetheart, driving to Winnipeg for Ha Ha Nickel to "pick up for him his new Honey Wagon," is, perhaps, one of the zaniest in the novel. Their lunch at Baton's Grill Room, (when the waitress asks Yasch how he would like his steak done, he replies, "Cooked"); the shopping spree "in the cellar," (Eaton's Bargain Basement); and their innovative exit from the Parkade, (Oata "climbs out from the cab and holds up a big Cadillac with her handsjust like the police does"), are delirious cut ups, even if some of the gentle satire skewers the two country bumpkins as well as the city slickers.

Yes, Yasch is certainly nothing if not pragmatic. Yet his brand of pragmatism is neither the crabbed materialism of Nobah Naze Needarp, who never drives his car "if he thinks there will be mud or dust," nor the blatant political opportunism of Yeeat Shpanst, who charges the government of the day with turning "Parliament into a house of ill repute-a common bawdy house!" only to disappear from the leadership convention in Ottawa with a female reporter. Above all else, Yasch's heart is in the right place. Yasch always manages to retain his common decency, his unabashed humanity, And this is his salvation.

When Data's father dies, Yasch wonders if he should leave her, ("maybe to Mexico or Thompson even"), but soon realizes that he simply cannot do such a thing:

I mean if a person goes dead you can't just turn away and spin your ties. Not if you want to call yourself a mensch. A mensch has to deal with other mensch and when you try to do something with another mensch it always gets kompliziet. And when you try to do something with a fruemensch it can be like building a fence with hackel-wire you found at the mist-acre. But that's the ball game. Yasch is right, life is complicated,and painful. To be human is to care, to be vulnerable. He, for one, acknowledges his responsibility to his fellows and acts accordingly . He behaves honourably towards Oata, someone who, as a result of her size, has always been the butt of the village's cruel jests. Having endured much ridicule and scorn himself, Yasch understands the need for compassion. Exercising it, he sets his life on a course which it otherwise would not have taken. While Yasch never becomes "a bigshot farmer" his family farm is prosperous and paid for while "The bank closed up Pug Peter's farm and had an auction sale." (Pug, dear reader, is the successful suitor of one of Yasch's early loves.) And, irony of ironies, fat Oata Needarp is slowly getting thinner while the wives of "the guys on the ball team... .are all pretty fat... ."!

Armin Wiebe is a talented writer, a gifted author: Yasch is a complex, comic, earthy character and this is an exciting novel. Do not miss it. A must, an absolute must for all multicultural/Canadiana. secondary school, and public library collections.

Patrick Dunn, Faculty of Education, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, B.C.
line indexes


1971-1979 | 1980-1985 | 1986-1990 | 1991-1995


The materials in this archive are copyright © The Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission Copyright information for reviewers

Young Canada Works