CM Febrary 23, 1996. Vol. II, Number 19

image The Ecstasy of Resistance:
A Biography of George Ryga.

James Hoffman.
Toronto: ECW Press, 1995. 336pp, paper, $19.95.
ISBN 1-55022-246-5.

Subject Headings:
Ryga, George, 1932-1987-Biography.
Dramatists, Canadian (English)-20th century-Biography.

Grades 11 and up / Ages 16 and up.
Review by Joanne Peters.

** 1/2 /4


He has remained in popular assessment variously a warrior, troublemaker, poet, "political" writer. As a subject for criticism, he has invited either a rapid dismissal or a pat summation, both far short of the complexity of the man. He has been discussed as artlessly political, or alternately, poetically undramatic. I believe that in Ryga we have a writer of major significance, in part due to sheer output; about two dozen of his works are still in print, including two recent anthologies, The Athabasca Ryga and Summerland, which contain many of his lesser known and previously unpublished works. He may or may not be a great writer -- Ryga's corpus is especially unwieldy; he may or may not be, as some have suggested, a "one-play" playwright. He is, however, indisputably an important Canadian writer.

image Mention the name "George Ryga," and immediately the plays Indian and The Ecstasy of Rita Joe come to mind. Ryga is best known for these two works that; indeed, they are often the only works associated with his career as writer. In fact, Ryga wrote in a variety of genres, although it was through drama that he gained renown. James Hoffman has extensively and exhaustively researched his subject; letters and personal interviews with former colleagues, family members, and Ryga himself form the basis of this comprehensive review of Ryga's life and work.


The son of Ukrainian immigrants, Ryga was often ambivalent towards his heritage: drawn to life on the land, yet hating the harshness of that existence. He lacked extensive formal training as a writer, and gained his knowledge of the craft through a variety of jobs, some of which enabled him to hone his talent, and some of which served to constrain it. Although the title of Hoffman's book suggests Ryga was a passionate individual, somehow that emotionality is lost in the telling of his story.

The Ecstasy of Resistance is undeniably comprehensive, but in that thoroughness, some of the fire that fuelled Ryga burns out. Though the book is an excellent source of information about Ryga and his work, it often reads slowly and the expectation of intensity created by the title is lost in details.

Recommended for secondary school and university collections, especially those focusing on Canadian literature.

Joanne Peters is a Teacher-Librarian at Kelvin High School in Winnipeg.

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Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364