Ladies' Lending Library by Janice Kulyk is set in 1963, amongst first and second Generation Ukrainian emigrants to Canada, at their summer homes on a beach about six hours from Toronto, where the husbands of the families in the story work. Sometime ago an enterprising Ukrainian real estate agent bought a stretch of beach land, on Lake Huron. He then sold lots to members of the Toronto Ukrainian community, who built summer houses where the wives and children would go for eight weeks in the summer. Being able to afford this meant you were a success in Canada. We see the struggles of the first generation to fit in and raise their families while their kids have little sense of being anything but Canadian.
One of the mothers lives in a mansion with servants, the other women work very hard doing laundry, cooking watching over their developing teenage daughters. Their husbands come on week ends. They pretty much have repair jobs on the houses every weekend. In 1963 the movie Cleopatra starting Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton had just been released. Everybody, especially the girls, is very into the off screen Romance of the stars. The girls are obsessed with Elizabeth Taylor's breasts. In one hilarious scene they conspire to see nude a girl with very large breasts, when that does not quite work out, they steal her bra and take turns trying it on.
The teenagers are pretty much totally Canadian, their parents try to hang on to their Ukrainian heritage. In one side plot we learn the tragic story of a sister who had to be left behind in the Ukraine. After an eight year gap, she rejoined her family in the Ukraine. There is also the daughter of a family friend, being kept away from the big city as she is growing up way to fast, at sixteen they fear she will disrupt the community. In a very sad scene, when she loses her virginity, she thinks she can prevent pregnancy by washing up with coke a cola.
I really enjoyed the narrative methods of Keefer, keeping multiple interacted story lines going. The characters are very well developed. We get an excellent feeling for the generational gaps between first and second generation emigrants. The title of the book comes from the books the ladies read and exchange. The prose is beautiful, the characters are interesting and well individuated.
I very much enjoyed The Ladies' Lending Library. This is my first venture into her work and I am certainly interested in reading more of her work
JANICE KULYK KEEFER is a bestselling Canadian author widely admired for her novels, short story collections, poetry, and nonfiction. She has been twice nominated for the Governor General’s Award and is a recipient of the Marian Engel Award, the Canadian Authors Association Award for Poetry, two first prizes from the CBC Radio Literary Competition, and several National Magazine Awards. The Ladies’ Lending Library is her fifth novel to date and the first to be published in the United States in more than fifteen years. She lives in Toronto.