In addition to stage plays, plays for radio and television, poems, film scripts, and song lyrics, George Ryga wrote four novels and one fictionalized memoir of a journey through China. Ryga’s first published novel, Hungry Hills (1963), is a story of a young man who returns to the cruel, barren prairie community that had exiled him three years earlier. Like many of Ryga’s plays, Hungry Hills describes the suffering and isolation of the outcast whose social and spiritual alienation is further embittered by a “desperate climate which parch[es] both the soil and heart of man.” Ryga’s second novel, Ballad of a Stone-Picker (1966), tells of two brothers, one of whom stays to work on the family farm so that his younger brother can go to the university, where he becomes a Rhodes scholar; a revised edition was published in 1976. In Night Desk (1976), Ryga’s third novel, the city (as always, in Ryga, a symbol of antilife) is given extended treatment. In the Shadow of the Vulture (1985), Ryga’s fourth novel, is set in the desert at the Mexico-U.S. border and focuses on the hope and despair of immigrant laborers.
In a series of scenes narrated by a tough-talking Edmonton fight promoter, the city’s grim and shabby underside is revealed. Beyond the Crimson Morning: Reflections from a Journey Through Contemporary China (1979) is based on Ryga’s trip to China in 1976.