Rudy Wiebe (WEE-bee) was born in 1934 on his family’s farm in a small Mennonite community in Fairholme, Saskatchewan; his parents were émigrés from the Soviet Union. Wiebe began writing seriously during his undergraduate years at the University of Alberta (1953-1956) and took an M.A. in creative writing from that institution in 1960. He has held various teaching posts since that time, including one at Goshen College, Indiana (1963-1967), but in 1967 he began teaching full-time as a professor of creative writing at the University of Alberta, where he remained until his retirement in 1992.
It is Wiebe’s work as a novelist that has given him his fine reputation in his native land, though he has also carved out a formidable career as a short-story writer, playwright, and editor/critic. He has candidly described himself as “one who tries to explore the world that I know, the land and people of Western Canada, from my particular worldview: a radical Jesus-oriented Christianity.” To perform this function, Wiebe has characteristically chosen experimental modes of narration, particularly the use of multiple, omniscient narrators, whose compelling voices establish the theme that the struggle for personal identity is resolvable only through wrestling with one’s family and cultural past. As Wiebe explains, “I believe fiction must be precisely, peculiarly rooted in a particular place, in particular people.” His first language was Low German, and this cultural background—coupled with his devout Mennonite faith—forms the thematic landscape in which his early fiction is constructed. He has thus come to be widely praised as one of Canada’s most innovative “Prairie” writers.
The characters in Wiebe’s first three novels share the common plight of being “strangers in a strange land,” a religious remnant fighting for their faith and family identity in a modern world gone mad. Mennonite Christianity, evolving from the radical Anabaptist tradition, is a fiercely independent faith that demands of its practitioners a separation from the world—it compelled them to leave their native land, customs, and language in search of a country where they could live out their faith. Wiebe’s first novel, Peace Shall Destroy Many, the title of which alludes to the Book of Daniel, is an ironic juxtaposition of two men’s wartime legalism and arrogance: the arrogant militarism of Adolf Hitler and the arrogant pacifism of Deacon Block, a Western Canadian Mennonite. Welcomed by critics for its evocation of time and place but equally criticized for its overt moralizing, this novel served notice that a new, yet unharnessed narrative power had emerged in Canadian letters. First and Vital Candle and The Blue Mountains of...
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