Things are not well with the Wittenbergs. Alice has given birth to her second child with a genetic disorder. Millicent has withdrawn into a depression. Joseph must choose between being principal of George Sutton Collegiate and the new English teacher who’s caught his eye. And Mia finds herself at the mercy of an unsympathetic teacher while her attractive athletic neighbour ignores her. Only the oldest Wittenberg, the matriarch who holds the key to the family’s Mennonite past, can lead her family along the banks of the Dnieper and toward a better tomorrow.
Winner of the Margaret McWilliams Award for Popular History; finalst for High Plains Award for Woman Writer category and three Manitoba Book Awards: Carol Shields Winnipeg Book Award, Margaret Laurence Award for Fiction, and Mary Scorer Award for Best Book by a Manitoba Publisher.
"In The Wittenbergs, [Sarah Klassen] uses graceful prose and a fluid story structure to explore themes of guilt, atonement, responsibility, belonging and, above all, finding meaning in a Mennonite heritage." —Winnipeg Free Press
"[Klassen's] writing is powerful, incredibly lyrical, and the characters hard to shake." -The Winnipeg Review
"Klassen masterfully weaves a story of a past family history with a more recent time." - Mennonite Historian
"As one might expect in a novel by a poet, descriptions are sensual and minimal..." - Rhubarb
"The novel is a kind of compilation of literary, biblical, and musical influences and inheritences; at times it almost seems to sing itself." -Journal of Mennonite Studies
"Klassen’s exquisite storytelling provokes us to care about this family, and we long to learn of their fate." - Billings Gazette
"With acuity and detail, Klassen captures the various ways one can be both burdened and unbound by the vicissitudes of fortune and of history." - Herizons
"Klassen has made her name as an award-winning poet; this is her first effort as a novelist. Her poetic impulse makes The Wittenbergs a lovely reading experience, with striking images..."
- Melanie Springer Mock, The Mennonite Quarterly Review
"Delicately written, the novel weaves threads of hope into the lives of its characters." - Reece Steinberg, Canadian Literature
What a marvel of a character Sarah Klassen has created in Mia Wittenberg, an open-hearted teenager who holds a troubled family’s past and present in her steady gaze.
—Joan Thomas, author of Curiosity
Suggest Book Club Questions for The Wittenbergs
- What impression of Mia are you left with after reading the first scene (Mia on the river bank)?
- The story is about a family—the Wittenbergs. Was there any one character you could identify with most? What qualities or actions of this character made you identify with him or her?
- Setting is important to a story. In what ways did place and time help you to better visualize or understand individual characters and the problems they faced?
- As the story unfolds, what is it that Mia wants or needs? What do other members of the Wittenberg family want or need?
- Which characters are closest to achieving what they want or need as the story moves forward?
- Which characters undergo change? Describe the change for each.
- What role is played by minor characters like Danny Haarsma, Bev Plett, Mr. Yakimchuk, Ab Solinsky, etc.
- The epigraph sates: “The only safe place is inside a story.” In what ways is this statement illustrated in the novel?
- Marie Wittenberg has lived longer than any of the other characters. How have her experiences shaped her? What kind of person has she become? What does she still have to learn in old age?
- Hannah Franz is a main character in Marie’s stories. What circumstances shape her life and her character?
- Alice’s children are born with genetic flaws. In what ways are the other characters in the novel flawed or in need of healing?
- Mia doesn’t mind solitude. Why?
- A number of the characters are teenagers. Did you find their concerns, actions and language authentic?
- “Humans are rarely all good or all bad.” How is this statement reflected in the characters of the novel?
- How did Mia benefit (or not) from the Heritage Cruise with her parents?
- As the novel ends, what reasons for hope do the Wittenbgs have?
Born in Winnipeg, Sarah Klassen grew up surrounded by trees, birdsong, silence and snowstorms of Manitoba's boreal forest. She left to become a teacher and a traveller. An accomplished poet and fiction writer, she has won the Gerald Lampert Memorial Award, the High Plains Award for Fiction, the Canadian Authors Association Award for Poetry, and the National Magazine Gold Award for Poetry. Her work has been nominated for the McNally Robinson Book of the Year Award, the Margaret Laurence Award for Fiction, and the Aqua Lansdowne Prize for Poetry. Klassen lives in Winnipeg.