To Antoine, a novel

Author

Genre

Release Date

February 2022

E. J. Wiens

Mennonite Historical Literature

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Nominated for the 2022 Scotiabank Giller Prize

Available online and in stores 

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from the book

An old man taking inventory of accumulated griefs and failings, fanning smouldering memories, picking among the ashes for scraps of vindication, something to settle the heave in the pit of my stomach. I come here in all weather, oblivious to the chill in the air as the months slip by toward winter. September, November, December, those embers of the dying year. ...

I am like a ghost among them, but my presence does not haunt them. I am just some sordid business from the past for the proper authorities to deal with. I scorn their judgment, but unless I be judged I am nothing. So I take pen and paper and turn to you, Antoine.

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Advance Praise for To Antoine

We are what we remember. This overwhelming story asks: does Peter Enns dare to remember what he has done and not done, what was done to him by those he loved, or hated; including Antoine, his brother, mentor … his idol.  Good reader, dare to follow Peter as he unflinchingly remembers himself. And you will discover the beauty, the guilt, the goodness, the horror of being a human being in the (as he calls it) “demented” 20thcentury.

- Rudy Wiebe

To Antoine is a powerful novel that digs deeply into the lives of Mennonite families and their friends over a 60-year period, from their struggles for survival in Stalin’s Russia and Hitler’s Germany to their creation of new identities in South America and Canada.

Erwin Wiens, a great story-teller, fills his sometimes noir-ish stories with tension and terror, whether as comedy or tragedy. His narrator is Peter Enns, son of a Mennonite artist and photographer. In 1991-92 Peter, by then in Canada, writes a series of letters to Antoine: Anton Antonovich, a child of former Russian gentry. When Peter was six, Antoine 11, the boys were brought together when Mary Gordon, a Scottish nanny, secretly deposited Antoine with Peter’s family. Secrets of Peter’s war-time deeds haunt him as he struggles to vindicate himself.

To Antoine, visceral and cerebral at once, is a quest for knowledge and forgiveness. It is a vivid portrait of bit players in the chaos of twentieth-century mayhem: of pragmatism and idealism; of loyalties and betrayals; of opportunism and deceit, complicity and revenge.

- Paul Tiessen

 

Erwin Wiens takes us into the lives of individual Russian Mennonites whose communities were destroyed during the communist revolution, who identified with the German forces during their 1941-43 occupation, and who then, in a few instances, became involved with the Nazis and their atrocities. After the war they make their way to Paraguay and to Canada, but they carry their past with them. Wiens’ careful research into the historical context, his breakdown of the story into readable segments, and his vivid portrayal of the characters in this cauldron of life and death, integrity and betrayal, courage and opportunism, make this book highly informative, deeply challenging, and hard to put down. The book does not argue for a particular ‘verdict of history;’ instead, it brings us close to human beings in this heart-rending chapter of Mennonite history, leaving us to reflect on the similar experience of many others.

- William Janzen