Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Behind The Altar

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One of my book choices for this WIR term, was Behind The Altar – Secrets of a Minister’s Daughter written by L. Lisa Bodnarchuk and published by General Store Publishing House.

Not sure what to expect, I took the cue from the tail end of her introduction where she says: “Nurture your children. Do not use them. They are not responsible for your success or failure.
If you are planning on having children, heed the messages interwoven into my stories. If you have already brought up your children and identify with my stories, try to make peace with them before it is too late.”

Lisa Bodnarchuk is able to take us through chapter and verse of what it was like to grow up in Canada as the daughter of a Ukrainian Orthodox Church minister. In speaking with a friend who is the daughter of a United Church minister, it would appear that some of the aspects of childhood are the same: appearances being important, the demands on the minister from the congregation and family life revolving around the church. The difference between my friend’s family and Lisa’s is that my friend’s family seemed to live in and be surrounded by abundant warmth and fellowship.

In reading Lisa’s story, I was struck by the amount of pain I saw there. It seemed to me as if she was almost from a different species dropped into a situation already long since established and required to live there. What the reader can connect with is the fact that the stories are so ordinary in terms of detail but so extraordinary in terms of the lasting effects on Lisa.

The other thing that struck me is the childlike desire that Lisa has for things to be different between parents and children. Not a mother, she can only approach this from her vantage point as the child. What she doesn’t fully realize is that parents can also feel the same way. From my standpoint, the possibilities for a close and intimate family are hampered or improved based solely on the sensitivities and the skills of those involved. The other thing I know is that those relationships are rarely, if ever perfect. I don’t get the feeling that her family ever intended to hurt her feelings. That said, just because someone doesn't mean to step on your toe, regardless, your toe has been hurt and that needs to be acknowledged.

The reasons that I would recommend this book are for the reasons that she set out in the introduction: she wants us, as a society, to be more attuned to our children and take more care. I appreciate the candor with which she shared her stories. This honest look at family life is a gift where the reader gets the chance to think about and measure Bodnarchuk’s family experience against their own. Anytime we are encouraged to reflect on what we believe is our “normal” we can make progress.

Bodnarchuk writes:
“Perhaps we are all children trapped in the past, having your memories of past events determine our reactions to the present. Only you know what is in your heart. I have told you my history. I leave the rest to your own introspection.”

I can only assume that being able to share her stories with the reader has been able to give her some sense of satisfaction. It is as if in the re-telling she has been able to validate her struggles.

Lisa’s parting message is a good one and worth sharing: “The past is ever present. It is how you respond to it that makes a difference in your life.”

Behind The Altar – Secrets of a Minister’s Daughter
By: L. Lisa Bodnarchuk
General Store Publishing House
ISBN: 978-1-897508-41-1

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

Pj Kwong

Pj Kwong is a figure skating expert and writer currently working for CBC Sports. Her first book, Taking the Ice: Success Stories from the World of Canadian Figure Skating (BookLand Press), will be in stores in September 2010.

Go to Pj Kwong’s Author Page