Our Lady Of Steerage
BY: STEVEN MAYOFF
"The present moment is unlike the memory of it. Remembering is not the negative of forgetting. Remembering is a form of forgetting.”
This quote by Milan Kundera sets the tone for the story of 19 year old Mariasse Knyszinski, who, in 1923, has run away from her home in Kraków to be with her cousin, Piotr, in Montreal.
Aboard the S. S. Montmartre she meets a young Jewish couple, Shulim and Betye, who have suffered the loss of their 5 year old son. Betye’s grief is such that she ignores their infant daughter, Dvorah, so Mariasse takes care of her for the duration of the voyage.
The Madonna-like image of Mariasse carrying Dvorah around on the ship inspires the other 3rd class passengers to refer to her as Our Lady of Steerage.
This begins a visceral connection between Mariasse and Dvorah and for the next 40 years they wander in and out of each other’s lives, their relationship weathering both fierce devotion and bitter betrayals.
The non-linear narrative and image-driven prose of Our Lady Of Steerage manifests the novel’s chief themes: the vagaries of memory and the struggle for self-reinvention.
Adult readers who are looking for psychological insight and emotional complexity will be drawn in by Mariasse’s personal journey that takes her from her Catholic upbringing to her eventual conversion to Judaism and ultimate return to Catholicism.
How this full circle mirrors Dvorah’s lifelong struggle with manic-depression illuminates the shadowy divide between the mind and the soul, only to reveal the beating heart that continually brings together and drives apart these two women.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Steven Mayoff was born and raised in Montreal, lived in Toronto for 17 years and has been writing full time in the bucolic splendour of western Prince Edward Island since 2001. His fiction and poetry have appeared in literary journals across Canada and the U.S., as well as in Ireland, France and Algeria.
His story collection, Fatted Calf Blues, won a 2010 PEI Book Award, was short-listed for a 2010 Re-Lit Award and was a Top 5 Finalist for the 2011 CBC Cross-Country Bookshelf (Maritime division). It was praised in the Globe & Mail as showing "a strong imagination at work.”
He has collaborated on short radio plays for CBC and on a stage play, Bully, which was produced at the Theatre Centre in Toronto in 2001. He received a nomination for a Dora Mavor Moore Award as lyricist for the musical, SwingStep, which was staged at the Ford Centre in North York in 1999.
As a librettist he has written a rock musical, Dorian, with composer Ted Dykstra and a short chamber opera, Milk Bar, with composer Jim O’Leary, which was performed as a student production at Mount Allison University in 2014. He is currently working on a full-length opera, Sikutopia, with Greenlandic composer, Arnannguaq Gerstrøm.
He is also completing a poetry collection, Red Planet Postcards, to be published in 2016. Our Lady Of Steerage is his first novel. His web site is www.stevenmayoff.ca