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Spring 1990 · Vol. 19 No. 1 · pp. 134–35 

Book Review

Under the Still Standing Sun

Dora Dueck. Winnipeg, MB and Hillsboro, KS: Kindred, 1989. 293 pages.

Reviewed by Katie Funk Wiebe

One of the first novels about the Mennonites in Paraguay to attract the American reading audience was Ingrid Rimland’s The Wanderers, a saga of three Mennonite women whose successive lives encountered the terrors of the Russian Revolution, the continuing struggle with war and flight during World War II in Europe, and then the difficulties of resettlement in the Green Hell of Paraguay.

Under the Still Standing Sun covers some of the same historical material, also from the viewpoint of a female protagonist, but begins with the period following the Russian Revolution when numerous Mennonites succeeded in escaping to Paraguay. Already there to greet them were the Kanadier, who left Canada in the middle 1920s in pursuit of greater religious freedom.

The story follows the experiences of 16-year-old Anna who, with her family, flees Russia in 1929 for Paraguay. Anna’s initial conflict is her jubilant readiness for the adventure of Paraguay, which she views as “nice,” as opposed to her father’s more realistic evaluation of the difficulties ahead of the Mennonites in settling the new land. The reader becomes most involved in Anna’s emotional struggles when she matures, {135} marries, has children and becomes more entangled in adult situations.

In the manner of Margaret Epp’s The Earth Is Round, local color dominates many chapters. The reader is introduced to customs related to baptism, courting, marriage, festivals, dealing with orphan children, family life, and birth and death.

The first sections of the book deal primarily with the struggles of Mennonite settlers as a community against the land and the climate as seen through exuberant Anna’s youthful eyes. The Mennonites contend with the environment, disease, producing food, personal relationships, and organizing and developing a strong village life. The new community is not without social and political tensions, for its members come from various Russian colonies. Interaction with the Kanadier also tests their unity. In addition, their political sympathies are torn between loyalty to Germany and the hope of returning there and loyalty to the goal of building a strong community in Paraguay. An added disruptive factor is the temptation to move to Canada. The reader cannot help but become aware of the many far-reaching areas of the world which are always part of the fabric of the Russian Mennonite story.

The story is told from the first person point of view, resulting in some self-descriptions the reader doesn’t expect the character to be consciously aware of (“My eyes were wide and unblinking”). Letting an omniscient narrator reveal Anna’s character through interaction with others may have been less cumbersome at times.

Although this narrative lacks the intensity of writing found in Rimland’s novel, it is a welcome addition to the literature of the Paraguayan Mennonite community. I see it as a fine choice for church libraries. Author Dueck and her husband Helmut, who grew up in Paraguay, spent two years in Paraguay in development work.

Katie Funk Wiebe
Professor of English
Tabor College, Hillsboro, Kansas

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