Date of this Version
Great Plains Quarterly Volume 28, Number 2, Spring 2008, pp. 160-61.
Hard Passage is an intelligent, innovative, and eloquently written family history. It recounts the last years of Heinrich and Helena Kroeger's life in Russia, upheaval and exile in the Soviet Union, and their migration to and settlement in Alberta. It also recounts the eventual acculturation of the Kroegers' five sons and a daughter to middle-class, liberal Canadian life. The author, Arthur Kroeger, was one of the sons and the one who was able to attend university-the University of Alberta and then Oxford; he subsequently developed a successful career in Canada's foreign service, earned multiple appointments as federal deputy minister, and finally served as a university chancellor in Ottawa.
To my mind, the book's innovativeness lies less in its rendition of a Mennonite family saga than in its treatm~nt of rural immigration in general. True, the parts that focus on the Kroeger family are told with a keen eye to everyday detail; on a single page, for example, the reader is introduced to the use of kerosene lanterns for wintertime milking, the gathering of cow dung for summer fuel, the fall perusing of the Eaton's catalogue, and the springtime search for evidence of moonshine making. Intensely emotional moments intersect this history, as in all family accounts: the sadness at a mother's death, the terror felt at a local murder, the joy of a bumper crop, the humiliation of Depression-era displacement, the sad sight of a dispirited and disheartened father. There is even the rise and fall and rise again of family fortune: the horror of the Russian Revolution is almost equaled by the horrific hardship in Depressionera Canada, but then come the success stories of the children-the deputy minister, the provincial government minister, the successful businessman, the supervisor, the pioneer teacher.