Paper 280 pp.
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ForeWord Magazine 2007 Book of the Year AwardGold Prize Winner in the General Fiction Category
Lexi, a young Mennonite woman from Saskatchewan, comes to work as housekeeper and nanny for a doctor’s family in Waterloo, Ontario, during the Depression. Dr. Gerald Oliver is a handsome philanderer who lives with his neurotic and alcoholic wife, Cammy, and their two children. Lexi soon adapts to modern conveniences, happily wears Cammy’s expensive cast off clothes, and is transformed from an innocent into a chic urban beauty. When Lexi is called home to Saskatchewan to care for her dying mother, she returns a changed person.
At home, Lexi finds a journal written by her older brother during the family’s journey from Russia to Canada. In it she reads of a tragedy kept secret for years, one hat reconciles her early memories of her mother as joyful and loving with the burdened woman she became in Canada. Lexi returns to Waterloo, where a crisis of her own, coupled with the knowledge of this secret, serves as the catalyst for her realization that, unlike her mother, she must create her own destiny.
Watermelon Syrup is a classic bildungsroman: the tale of a naive young woman at the crossroads of a traditional, restrictive world and a modern one with its freedom, risks, and responsibilities.
Annie Jacobsen was born in Luseland, Saskatchewan, to a Mennonite mother and Lutheran father. In addition to Watermelon Syrup, she is the author of short stories, poetry, and an unpublished novel. In the later years of her life she lived in Toronto with her two children, taught writing workshops, and practised as a Jungian psychotherapist.
Jane Finlay-Young met Annie in 1999 and together they developed and taught writing workshops. Jane published her first novel, From Bruised Fell, in 2000. At Annie’s request, she rewrote Watermelon Syrup with the help of Di Brandt’s editorial feedback.
Di Brandt has received numerous awards for her poetry, including the CAA National Poetry Prize, the McNally Robinson Book of the Year Award, and the Gerald Lampert Award. She holds a Canada Research Chair in Creative Writing at Brandon University.
“Within a few pages I found myself swept into Lexi’s life, and until the novel’s close, I never left her side, so attached that I too experienced the pain and glory of the new world she entered as a young woman hired as some ‘home help.’ When she/we had to return to the family farm, I thought my heart would break—but I kept on reading and she/we survived the grief of loss and emerged whole and strong. Watermelon Syrup is a wonderful novel of leaving, of discovery, of finding one’s true self and of learning about love. Annie Jacobsen was a wise and beautiful woman and she has left us a wise and beautiful book.”
— Isabel Huggan, award-winning author of Belonging: Home Away from Home
“Watermelon Syrup is the story of a young Mennonite girl from Saskatchewan who travels to southern Ontario to obtain work during the Depression years. Much of the story is actually a fictionalized account of Annie’s own family and is based on stories she had heard about her mother’s childhood in Russia and Saskatchewan. Annie died of cancer in 2005, after completing the third draft of this novel. Her friend Jane Finlay-Young and award-winning author Di Brandt took the story through two more drafts, polishing and revising, though, as Finlay-Young says: ‘the manuscript was already whole, had already found its voice and the story was already fully developed.’... Together they have created a fine, multi-layered story that readers will surely enjoy.... Watermelon Syrup is well worth a trip to the bookstore or library.”
— Donna Gamache, Prairie Fire Magazine
“The many voices in this collaborative effort help define the singular voice of Lexi, her self-determination and discovery, and allow for a satisfying, multilayered read. It is a solid and cohesive piece of writing.”
— Maggie Mortimer, The Globe and Mail
“Part of the ‘Life Writing Series,’ published by Wilfrid Laurier University Press ... this is a fictionalized version of Jacobsen’s mother’s life story based on extensive oral history, family journals, and historical research. Just before she died of cancer in 2005, Annie Jacobsen finished a third draft of the novel and turned it over to her friend and colleague Jane Finlay-Young for revision. Finlay-Young took the novel through two more drafts with assistance from Di Brandt. The product of this collaboration is a poignant story told in beautifully evocative language (at times reminiscent of Anne Michael’s Fugitive Pieces) with a powerful sense of local history.”
— Linda Quirk, Canadian Literature
By the same author
Speaking of Power: The Poetry of Di Brandt, Di Brandt; Tanis MacDonald, editor
Wider Boundaries of Daring: The Modernist Impulse in Canadian Women’s Poetry, Di Brandt and Barbara Godard, editors