Wiebe, Rudy (Vol. 14)
Wiebe, Rudy 1934–
Wiebe is a Canadian novelist, short story writer, and critic. His devout belief in the Mennonite religion informs all of his work, and serves to illuminate Wiebe's concept of modern man. Although his work has been criticized as overly didactic, Wiebe addresses the complex problems of belief in a direct and forceful manner. (See also CLC, Vols. 6, 11, and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 37-40, rev. ed.)
Hildegard E. Tiessen
Rudy Wiebe's Peace Shall Destroy Many (1962) and The Blue Mountains of China (1970) function within the Canadian literary context not only as works of Prairie fiction, but also as documents that illuminate Mennonitism, a peculiar religious and ethnic orientation which has impressed itself upon the Prairie landscape for the past 100 years. In each novel the material used is Mennonite, and the thematic framework in which it is cast is a theological one, tempered primarily by the author's own interpretation of Anabaptist teaching…. Wiebe already alludes to what later becomes a major motif in The Blue Mountains of China: "they were a religious nation without a country. They were driven from Switzerland to America, from Holland and northern Germany to Prussia, then Russia, finally to North and South America."…
The story Wiebe tells of the Mennonites in The Blue Mountains of China—although the details make it a mixture of what he would choose to call "layers of fact" and "prisms of fiction"—is a genuine physical and spiritual history of these people [as they fled from Russia in the 1920s]….
Wiebe's first and third novels are contemporary explorations of the Mennonite way of life…. The early Anabaptist fathers had stressed in their teachings a literal application of Jesus's concept of the brotherhood of man. In his fiction Wiebe attempts to demonstrate that the man who would seriously...
(The entire section is 1473 words.)
W. J. Keith
Sir Walter Scott employed the historical novel to analyze the process of history; Tolstoy used it to illustrate his own philosophy of history. Rudy Wiebe (and I should state here that I consider him thoroughly capable of sustaining these lofty comparisons) is more interested in using his art to explore the enigmas of history and to recreate the experience of living at a time of historical crisis. All his characters are authentic, and he occupies a territory closer than any of his novelist-predecessors to that of the professional historians. His creative faculty is to be found in the convincing motivations he provides for his protagonists and the artistic balance that he achieves in his selection of available incident….
[The Scorched-Wood People] is Wiebe's first novel to rely upon a single first-person perspective, and the strain sometimes shows. He asks his reader to accept an unusual authorial convention; an effort of both imagination and sympathy is necessary. But if the reader is prepared to make this effort, the rewards are considerable.
The Scorched-Wood People is best approached as a series of imaginative tableaux. It lacks the gradual development to which we are accustomed in a traditional novel. Each section relates to the next not by any necessary plot-connection, but because it adds yet another facet to the ultimate understanding of Riel's life…. The spirit rather than the letter of...
(The entire section is 349 words.)
Most contemporary Canadian novelists are writing within an urban context. To be more precise, their concerns are generally those of our society in its more "highly developed" state—the problem of alienation, a sense of personal guilt, the search for basic values, the healing power of love—all are concerns which modern Canadian novelists explore, often with great skill and sensitivity. The nature of these concerns is often shaped by a vision of the world in which the traditional feelings of community have broken down; the individual finds himself in existential isolation, charting his own fate with no exterior guide on which he can rely, and no possibility of any return to a state in which the individual can strengthen himself on the values of those with whom he shares his life.
If not entirely opposed to this mainstream of the contemporary Canadian novel, Rudy Wiebe's interests are certainly divergent. Throughout Wiebe's work is a strong sense of community—a sense of man as part of a larger context, even though his protagonists often spend much of their time trying to establish their identity either within or in opposition to their community. His earlier work draws on his Mennonite background as a correlative through which to express this sense of community. Often, as in his first novel Peace Shall Destroy Many, the negative elements of repression exerted by the community are portrayed vividly. But even here the feeling...
(The entire section is 1051 words.)
R. P. Bilan
[The Blue Mountains of China] is an impressive achievement. Although the problem of didacticism and the "syntactical awkwardness" in Wiebe's style—which leads to some very murky writing in places—are … obtrusive weaknesses …, they are more than offset by the novel's strengths. In The Blue Mountains of China Rudy Wiebe not only vividly recounts the history of a segment of the Mennonite people, but, more importantly, he presents a complex judgment of the Mennonites and the modern world, and compellingly dramatizes his own radically Christian vision. (p. 50)
For Rudy Wiebe, and the Mennonites he presents in his novel, the "kinds of things that we struggle with" are primarily questions of religious belief. However, the struggle for faith and a truly Christian way of life is beset by many difficulties: the suffering in life, the attractions of the secular materialistic world, and, particularly for the Mennonites, the temptation to isolate themselves from the rest of the world.
Wiebe tells the Mennonites' history and explores his central themes in a book with a very unusual and complex structure. Many of the thirteen chapters of the novel read as almost self-contained stories, but Wiebe connects them in part by an intricate series of cross-references that help explain previous chapters and look forward to the ensuing ones…. The primary source of unity and continuity in the novel, however, is provided...
(The entire section is 1433 words.)