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Sisters of Grass

by Theresa Kishkan

Writing successful fiction that relies heavily on a specific setting can be tricky. The writer must either count on the reader’s knowledge and experience of the locale (and thus feature recognizable landmarks and scenes set in the collective awareness), or evoke a little-known landscape through words. Rare is the writer who can vividly conjure an unfamiliar place – and an unfamiliar historical backdrop only increases the challenge. Sisters of Grass, then, is an astonishing debut.

The first novel from B.C. poet Theresa Kishkan tells the story of Margaret Stuart, daughter of a Scottish-American father and a native mother, on the cusp of womanhood in the early years of the 20th century in B.C.’s Nicola Valley. The novel is told through the educated imagination of Anna, a contemporary museum curator, as she examines Margaret’s personal effects for an upcoming exhibit.

Sisters of Grass is a novel of change and reconciliation, of the confluence of many worlds within Margaret herself. Her interest in photography is inspired by a New York-raised anthropology student, while her education in traditional native skills and lore is overseen by her grandmother. Cattle drives are juxtaposed with a trip to Kamloops for an opera recital, while the earthy physicality of the Nicola Valley is set against the society ways of Margaret’s father’s family from Astoria, Oregon. That Kishkan can so effortlessly incorporate such disparate elements is a tremendous accomplishment.

Kishkan’s prose is clearly that of a poet, but it’s restrained in service to the narrative – rich and evocative, but never overwrought. Sisters of Grass is beautifully understated, with a quiet grace that succeeds in transforming the regional to the universal, filling the reader with a sense of the mysteries of the world, and humanity, that can never fully be resolved.


Reviewer: Robert Wiersema

Publisher: Goose Lane


Price: $18.95

Page Count: 208 pp

Format: Paper

ISBN: 0-86492-288-4

Released: May

Issue Date: 2000-4

Categories: Fiction: Novels