Finding St. Demetrius
- Myrna Kostash (Author)
Prodigal Daughter: A Journey to Byzantium. University of Alberta Press (purchase at Amazon.ca)
Reviewed by Lindy Ledohowski
On picking up Myrna Kostash’s Prodigal Daughter: A Journey to Byzantium I thought I knew what to expect. I expected the story of a prodigal daughter: a feminist retelling of the parable of the lost son who finds home again, written in Kostash’s pioneering creative non-fiction style, likely with some forthrightness about desire as in her The Doomed Bridegroom and a left-leaning stance in keeping with Kostash’s progressive ideals. After all, in their 2002 interview with her, Sneja Gunew, Margery Fee, and Lisa Grekul call Kostash a
Ukrainian Canadian Non-fiction Prairie New Leftist Feminist Canadian Nationalist, and I knew all of this. I knew about Kostash’s groundbreaking study of Canadian-born Ukrainian Canadians across the prairies All of Baba’s Children, which has never been out of print since its first publication in 1977; I knew about Kostash’s travel memoirs from the 1990s, both Bloodlines and The Doomed Bridegroom, that weave narratives of Eastern Europe and large socio-political struggles into something very personal and intimate; and I was very familiar with Kostash’s writing style, at times pithy and wry and at others heart-wrenchingly earnest. Armed with all I knew about Kostash I made assumptions about Prodigal Daughter.
I was wrong.
Prodigal Daughter is both like and unlike anything Kostash has written before, and I think it may just be her best book to date.
Prodigal Daughter unfolds as a historical exploration into the origins of St. Demetrius of the Eastern Orthodox Church. While Kostash journeys to the Balkans to research the mythology, cults, rituals, and hagiography of St. Demetrius in all its complicated and competing variations, she explores more than Church history or ideology. By focusing on the Balkans, that place where
west, she begins to unpack some of the most complicated strands of ethnic identity informing twentieth- and twenty-first-century geopolitics. Who are the
cultured Byzantines? Who are the
barbaric Slavs? Indeed, who is she? In asking these questions as she engages in her journey cum investigation, she begs her reader to ask those very same questions about the assumptions we make about nationalism, ethnicity, language, and ultimately religion.
For at its heart, Kostash’s journey into discovering who and what St. Demetrius may be—both in a historical and contemporary sense—is a shockingly honest and open articulation of a spiritual quest, one that is rich with possibilities.
Ultimately, this book ends up being about possibilities, because Kostash does not find clear, historical truth about the St. Demetrius whose trail the book follows down twisting corridors and dead-end hallways. Instead, the final chapter of the book offers two mutually exclusive imaginings of Demetrius, both equally plausible and equally significant. The juxtaposition of these two stories offers us a world of possibilities that lie amidst all that is unknown and indeterminate, posing the question whether or not Kostash (and her readers) are ready to take a proverbial leap of faith.
- Before We Forgot by Michael Wells
Books reviewed: The Professionalism of Women Writers in Eighteenth-Century Britain by Betty A. Schellenberg
- Alternative Routes by Christl Verduyn
Books reviewed: Paths of Desire: Images of Exploration and Mapping in Canadian Women's Writing by Marlene Goldman
- Promise and Prosperity? by Sue Sorensen
Books reviewed: Hard Passage: A Mennonite Family's Long Journey from Russia to Canada by Arthur Kroeger and Aksel Sandemose and Canada: A Scandinavian Writer's Perception of the Canadian Prairies in the 1920s by Christopher S. Hale and Aksel Sandemose
- From Colony to Nation? Canada Revised by Andrea Cabajsky
Books reviewed: Worrying the Nation: Imagining a National Literature in English Canada by Jonathan Kertzer, Practising Femininity: Domestic Realism and the Performance of Gender in Early Canadian Fiction by Misao Dean, and Imperial Canada: 1867-1917 by Colin M. Coates
- The Present As Watershed by Lothar Honnighausen
Books reviewed: Citizens and Nation: An Essay on History, Communication, and Canada by Gerald Friesen and The Next Canada: In Search of Our Future Nation by Myrna Kostash
MLA: Ledohowski, Lindy. Finding St. Demetrius. canlit.ca. Canadian Literature, 18 June 2012. Web. 25 May 2013.
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