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Local authors bring history to life in new books

Local authors draw on family history in fascinating new books

Two local writers are bringing stories to life in books that not only delve into rich family histories but also bring readers into a world of generations past.

Tony Peter began writing fantasy fiction when he was still working as a teacher, but in the past few years has added new genres to his craft, including creative non-fiction. On January 13 book lovers will get a chance to experience this newer path for him as part of a book launch for his latest book, a volume that draws on history of the Peter family.

Landau: The Search For Paradise follows the struggles and dreams of a German family from Alsace, during the years 1793–1809. Europe is struggling through the aftermath of the French Revolution, a time of social, political and religious upheaval. Many German families, including Mathias and Anna Peter and their teenage son Bernhard flee the advancing French army. They are branded traitors, have their land confiscated and are forced into exile. After amnesty is declared they return only to find their land sold. When Czar Alexander invites Germans to come to the steppes of southern Russia (now modern Ukraine) Mathias and Bernhard dream of a new life away from the turmoil around them. Matthias, Anna, Bernhard and his new bride embark on a four-month journey overland by cart, river barge and on foot, filled with excitement, toil, danger and tragedy.

Tony Peter’s visit with an 89-year-old first cousin back in 2015 jumpstarted this new novel. “He gave me copies of five letters written to my grandfather in the 1930’s by his brother who still lived in the family home in Landau, southern Russia,” Tony remarked. “I wanted to know more.”

Bernhard Peter is Tony’s great, great, great grandfather and this inspired him to research the historical time period and write this narrative. Though his family’s ancestors make up the central characters, it is a narrative that others will be able to draw connection to. “This story is special to me because it deals with my historical background,” he said, “but since many families can trace their German ancestry to southern Russia, this could also be their story.”

The book is creative non-fiction, meaning real events are told, but a story is developed because the lives of the people involved have not been recorded. It is a genre Tony has employed before, recently in the novel Bones of the Holy Man, a fictional account of an archaeological dig in Jordan where the bones of an ancient prophet and leader are discovered, resulting in upheaval and turmoil in a region that walks a razor’s edge between war and peace. This book, as well as Crystals of Goern IV, a continuation of his fantasy series, will all be part of the 2022 book launch event after having their launches postponed by COVID.

Tony Peter’s book launch will take place at the Outlook Community Library on Thursday, January 13 beginning at 7:00 pm. His books will be available that night, as well as online and at The Outlook.

Elbow author Joan Soggie is excited about the publication of her newest book, a story that delves into family history and a woman named Rikka, her husband’s grandmother. “Rikka’s tragic history grabbed my attention and piqued my curiosity,” she remarked. What started as a foray into family history became a personal quest to understand the woman.

Rikka is an historical novel based on the true story of one of western Canada’s female immigrant pioneers. The reader will travel with Rikka from her close-knit community on the wave-scoured islands of northern Norway to a wind-swept prairie homestead. “There was so much about Rikka’s life that puzzled and fascinated me and so much that could never be known,” the author explained.

Joan said becoming a writer has been a dream since she started reading. “Like many children of my generation, books became my window on the world,” she explained. “My Mom read to us every evening and often told stories she remembered or created specifically to keep my siblings and me entertained. My childhood was filled with stories. It was natural to compose my own.”

She decided that if she was going to be a writer, she wanted to tell the truth of a story, not just superficial facts. When she found subject matter that inspired, the writing followed. “My love of the prairies and my curiosity about the complicated bond between people and the land led me to historical stories that begged to be shared with others.”

Her first book Mistaseni told the story of the buffalo rock at Elbow. That was followed by Looking for Aiktow, a non-fiction collection of vignettes about the area’s pre-settlement history. But there was more about the region she wanted to explore. “Looking for Aitkow,” she said, “left a whole slew of other true stories untold, a web of land-based tales linking together the indigenous people, the Metis and my own people, the settlers. I tried to weave those threads together in the historical fiction, Prairie Grass.”

Writing Prairie Grass taught her that historical fiction requires tremendous amounts of research. “Thankfully, a lot of the background material needed for Rikka was already in my files,” she said. In the absence of first-person accounts such as letters or diaries, she relied on newspaper records and archival material as well as ancestry and general historical data. For instance, she was able to access from Canada Archives the 1903 hospital records at Grosse Isle for Rikka’s family. A trip to Norway gave her a sense of the people and places she would one day write about. “Just seeing those rocky islands and isolated communities gave a glimmer of insight into the deep-roots of the people who live there. And meeting those people certainly reinforced any notions I had about their characteristic hardiness.”

Nuggets of information from family and the community proved very helpful as well. “I began saving notes long before I thought of a book, jotting a line or two in the margin of a family tree that an uncle helped me fill out, or on the back of an envelope as an elderly friend reminisced over a cup of tea.” Those with connections to Rikka herself were gems. “And of course, those notes jotted down long ago from stories told by people who remembered Rikka were pure gold. Just a phrase or a sentence could sometimes create a whole scene in my mind. I hope I managed to translate that onto the page for the reader.”

Joan is hoping to have a Zoom book launch in the near future but in the meantime, Rikka is available online and will soon be at McNally Robinson in Saskatoon, Post Horizon and Western Development Museum in Moose Jaw, Penny University Bookstore and Chapters in Regina, and at The Outlook.

These local authors are using their craft to weave stories that are not only entertaining but also informative, ensuring history can be shared today and for generations to come.