Book Review: Sabotage by Karen Autio

Karen Autio’s new book Sabotage describes the experiences of Ukrainian and German prisoners in the internment camps during World War I. It is the third book in Autio’s trilogy about Finnish immigrants to Canada.

In 1915 war is raging in Europe, and in Canada, there are rumours of espionage and sabotage. Paranoia against foreigners is increasing.

John and Saara Maki are the children of Finnish immigrants in Port Arthur, Ontario. John wants to become a reporter.  He delivers newspapers to make extra money for the family, and occasionally works with a local reporter to gather information.  When he uncovers a plot to blow up the local bridge, paranoia against foreigners grows.

John is very upset when his friend’s father is sent to an internment camp in Kapuskasing. His friend Fred is the son of Ukrainian immigrants, and the boys’ relationship reveals the suffering that the WWI internment operations inflicted on Ukrainian families.

Meanwhile, John’s older sister Saara has just returned from caring for her ailing aunt’s family. Saara missed a lot of time at school and must make up her school work if she to become a teacher.  During the summer, she befriends her new neighbor, Birgitta Schmidt. When Birgitta and her family are sent to an internment camp in British Columbia because they are German, Saara is devastated.  However, the two girls write to each other. Birgitta’s letters describe her experiences in the internment camp. When Saara’s father is arrested for sabotage, these letters to the German girl become a problem. The police suspect that Saara and her family are involved in a dastardly sabotage plot.  Will John and Saara be able to save their father from jail?

Young readers from 10 to 12 will definitely enjoy this historical novel set in Canada during the World War I period. They will appreciate the realistic portrayal of Finnish family life and the interplay between brother and sister.  Both siblings have ambitions for the future while they deal with everyday issues of daily life such as: chores, young love, bullies and friends. The novel alternates between John and Saara’s point of view.  This double narrative technique will appeal to both male and female readers.

Readers will also learn about the paranoia and fear which was rampant in Canada during the First World War, not only among the politicians who created internment camps, but also among the general population which looked for spies and saboteurs everywhere – and sometimes found them.  Through John’s friendship with his Ukrainian neighbor Fred, we get one family’s perspective on the horrors of internment.  Through Saara’s friendship with Birgitta, we learn about actual living conditions of internment camps and the families who lived there.

Unfortunately, children today will be able to relate to the paranoia that ran rampant in Canada during the First World War. In the period since the 9/11 terrorist incident in New York, North American communities are increasingly concerned with the possibility of terrorist threats such as the Boston Marathon bombing of 2013.

Karen Autio was born in Fort William which, along with Port Arthur, is now part of Thunder Bay.  She grew up in Nipigon, Ontario on the northern shore of Lake Superior. She is a writer, editor and calligrapher who presents authentic historical settings and characters.  Her first two novels, Second Watch (2005) and Saara’s Passage (2008) explore the history of Finnish immigration to Canada during the years 1914-1915.  Autio used her Finnish heritage as a basis for these novels.  In the third novel in her trilogy, Sabotage (2013), Autio explores Canadian paranoia against foreigners during World War I, sabotage attempts in Port Arthur, as well as life in internment camps.

Sabotage was published by Sono Nis Press in 2013. It is available in print and digital form at Chapters, Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

Autio, Karen.
SABOTAGE
Reviewed by Myra Junyk

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