Wiebe, Rudy (Vol. 11)
Rudy Wiebe's The Blue Mountains of China centres upon the problem of belief—the sustaining relationship of the self to something beyond itself. As a Christian, Wiebe perceives this problem primarily in terms of the relationship to the divine, and his task is to convince the contemporary, secular reader that this relationship must be taken seriously. (p. 79)
Questions about plot, structure and point of view embodied in Wiebe's narrative strategy serve as mediations for the spiritual themes probed by the fiction. Wiebe's characters, exiled in the wilderness, search for the Promised Land that will transform existential chaos into meaningful form. The novel itself, multiple and fragmented, highlights the absence of such integrative vision and engages the reader in his own struggle in a narrative wilderness. Working through dissonance and disjunction, Wiebe subjects the reader to a process of relentless disorientation. The senses are assaulted by disconnected images—a cow's bulging eye, a coruscating chandelier, a leg oozing black pus—and the mind struggles to assimilate the sharply differing settings—a sand-assaulted well in the desert of Paraguay, a silent snow-covered street in Moscow, a crowded lice-infested basement in China. As the novel's disparate voices succeed one another, point of view switches abruptly. Dramatic shifts in narrative distance and mode typically accompany these alterations of perspective, so...
(The entire section is 2454 words.)
I thought of War and Peace when I read … Rudy Wiebe's The Scorched-Wood People, which too, on a very different scale, is about war and defeat in a vast country. Rudy Wiebe, whose ancestors lived many generations in Russia, has always struck me as being similar in many ways to Tolstoy, not in any way the equivalent in stature or in sheer artistry, but on his own smaller scale irradiated with the same kind of rather primitive religious concerns, and just as prone as the great Leo Nicholaevich to subordinate his innate sense of form to a compelling didactic motive. (p. 98)
The scorched-wood people are, of course, the bois brulés, as the Métis were originally called. In his novel Wiebe is not concerned, except for a few reminiscent references to the pre-1869 past that are necessary for background, with the entire span of Métis history. He has written a tale about the two rebellions, of 1869–70 and 1885, in which the Métis unsuccessfully defied the centralizing power that entered Canada with Confederation and is the enemy of all Canadians who believe in personal freedom. (pp. 98-9)
Unfortunately Rudy Wiebe has been unable in The Scorched-Wood People to separate the purpose of historical fiction, which is to give us a plausible image and feeling of the past, from that of the historical moralist, which is to apportion blame, signal merit and formulate lessons. He feels too deeply about his...
(The entire section is 596 words.)