Hilarious, bizarre and heart-breaking by turns, this novel in triptych about Mennonite life in Canada from the 1950’s to the 1970’s fills in the gap between Rudy Wiebe’s “Of This Earth” (a generation older) and Miriam Toews’ “A Complicated Kindness” (a generation younger). Leaving Germany with little more than their 16th century Anabaptist faith and lifestyle to guide them, Schroeder’s family settles on a small Fraser Valley farm in British Columbia and proceeds to try making sense of the perplexing mores and values of “The English” who surround them. The family finds solace, but not much else, within the local Mennonite congregation founded by Schroeder’s grandfather, every single one of whose sixty-two members is related to Schroeder on his mother’s side.
In more forgiving times, these stories might have been described as largely autobiographical. However, given today’s more stringent standards—not to mention Schroeder’s enthusiastic dedication to all the elements of effective storytelling (or, as his siblings would have it, “inclination to rampant lying and exaggeration”)—Schroeder has raised the white flag and called these stories “a novel in triptych.” That should go some distance to protecting the guilty and mollifying the innocent—if such there be.
“This is a fine novel about trying to love, trying to forgive, and trying to build something perfect: a trapeze glide from the comic into the tragic and back to a place of balance in between. A pleasure in three sure-handed parts.”
The “immigrant experience” may never have been told so entertainingly or convincingly as it is in this story of a German Mennonite family adjusting to life in western Canada. The final installment of this story will make you want to read the whole lovely, funny, and sometimes heartbreaking book again, armed with new insight gained from a painful glimpse at the past. This is an important story, beautifully told.”
“This family portrait, written with love and compassion, is a masterpiece.”
“At first, Renovating Heaven lulls the reader into the nostalgic comfort of hilarious family memories, but the accumulated gathering of comic events adds up to a tragic portrait of people displaced by history, stifled by exaggerated belief systems, buoyed up and crushed by faith and love. Andreas Schroeder is a liar and a rascal indeed.”