Sweetness from Ashes
by Marlyn Horsdal


Brindle & Glass Publishing, 2010. ISBN 978-1-897-14243-1.
Reviewed by Diana Nolan
Posted on 04/14/2010

Fiction: Multi-Cultural; Fiction: Mainstream

Genealogists will love Sweetness from Ashes, Marlyn Horsdal's ambitious novel based on a far-flung interracial family. The matriarch identified as Pat has died. In her will she directed her three children to bury her ashes at the hundred-year-old family farm now owned by a distant cousin.

Characters flit in and out of the narrative like so many butterflies, serving to establish the diverse lives of the three while emphasizing their ability to maintain a close relationship with each other. To fulfill their mother's wishes, the siblings, two half sisters and a step brother, travel from Vancouver to Ontario. There they embrace the serene setting of the family farm and the cousin they never knew, unaware of the revelations that await them.

The technique of a narrative within a narrative is sometimes difficult to accomplish, but Horsdal achieves the transition as we become immersed in the story of a government worker who lived in Ghana with his wife many years before. We wonder how these people are connected to the three siblings and the distant cousin who happens to be married to a woman from Ghana.

Strands of rebellion are evident from the gentle rebellion of the siblings, the implied rebellion of their mother, and the cultural rebellion of the cousin, perhaps serving to illustrate their acceptance of what they cannot change and envision what they can.

The novel, Horsdal's first, presents a fine example of how members of a multiracial family can keep alive their individual cultures while welcoming the traditions of others. If you haven't traced your family history, Sweetness from Ashes, will inspire you to do so.


Marlyn Horsdal is a publisher, editor, and writer. She is co-founder of Horsdal & Schubart Publishers, Ltd. She managed the company with her husband from 1984 until 2002. She was educated at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario, and the London School of Economics. She has taught in Ghana as a CUSO volunteer and formed a non-profit group, Educating Girls in Africa; a program that provides scholarships to girls at St. Louis Secondary School in Kumasi, Ghana. Royalties from Sweetness from Ashes will be donated to this cause. Marlyn lives on Saltspring Island, British Columbia.

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