I wrote this about my friend Anne in 2014. I wanted to re-share it in tribute to her and her family:
Author Anne Nenarokoff-Van Burek is the kind of woman I’d like to be when I grow up. The kind of woman who, in addition to being talented at her profession, knows how to cook, bake, make delicious preserves AND grow orchids!
I’ve tasted Anne’s “poires au vinaigre” – pears with spices — and it’s addictive.
The woman has flair. Anne knows how to arrange flowers, art and furniture in a room (something which challenges me greatly).
Her home is decorated simply and elegantly – in that French way of combining new stuff with old stuff and still have it all look lovely.
Anne is as much at home in Paris as she is in Toronto.
She has a great relationship with her son and her husband. And as if all that weren’t enough, Anne teaches French, writes for the theatre and has written an intriguing memoir.
Ariadne’s Thread: The Women in My Family is a refreshing read. It tells the story of the remarkable women in Anne’s family, all of whom were born in Russia before the 1917 revolution. They escaped to France, where, Anne says, “they had to adapt to a life radically different from what they had known. When their world collapsed, they could either collapse with it, or reinvent themselves.”
The women came from a privileged background. In Paris, they still had their upper-class manners and traditions, but their income and social standing were both drastically reduced. It was a harsh change and one that could have broken their spirits. They chose to survive instead.
From these women – Anne’s grandmother, aunts and her mother – Anne learned values which have guided her own life: “resilience in adversity, self-reliance, frugality”.
I’ve read this book twice. I gobbled it up the first time – then read it again, more slowly.
I love it for the characters: Anne’s grandmother, aunts (so different from each other), and her mother. And I love it for the small details (such as Anne’s unmanageable reddish hair when she was a girl, and her teacher’s face and neck, among many other skillful descriptions).
Canada’s story is sometimes described as “a story of immigration”. All of us have roots – close roots or distant ones – in another part of the world. Some of those immigrants came seeking better opportunities for themselves and their children. Some families gave up luxury to gain freedom. They fled war, revolution, oppression – leaving their privileged lifestyles, loved ones and precious belongings behind.
Whatever our history, wherever our roots, the stories we Canadians tell are often infused with dreams, sacrifice and faith in a better tomorrow.
By examining the lives of the women in her family, Anne’s book offers “clues for a better future”.
“If we want a better world,” she says, “we could do worse than turn to a few old-fashioned values and work at putting them into practice. The book is a tribute to the precious heritage I received from people who lived and loved fully, and for whom everyday life was a celebration. I hope they will inspire many.”
Ariadne’s Thread: The Women in My Family is available on Friesen Press, amazon and through most booksellers worldwide. You can buy the book in English or in a bilingual version (French and English). Below are the ISBN numbers:
- 978-1-897018-53-8 is the bi-lingual version
- 978-1-4602-0721-5 (Hardcover, English)
- 978-1-4602-0719-2 (Softcover, English)
One last thing: did I mention that Anne also embroiders? That’s her work on the book cover.
A talented woman and an interesting book.
Postscript: Anne died on Saturday. Her loving husband John, son Nicolas and his family and many friends and relatives feel the loss of her vibrant presence but also feel enriched by her unique spirit in our lives.
Colour Photos by John Van Burek.