"In his first novel, Steven Mayoff has written an insightful chronicle
of many lives spanning many years.”
- Ian Colford
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"Our Lady of Steerage is a bare, harshly lit, enlightening summary of Canadian experience.”
- Kristy Hourd, The Winnipeg Review
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“I thought that the disjointed chronological structure was the most impressive part of this novel. It is clever and well-orchestrated and adds depth and tension to the narrative.”
- Victoria Best (aka litlove), Tales From The Reading Room
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“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.
High Praise For Our Lady Of Steerage
Our Lady Of Steerage is a gripping and intense novel, which reveals the dramatic connections of its characters at various moments of their lives in Montreal over four decades. Family, religion, the struggle to make a life in a new country, these are the building materials. The time sequence is complicated, the plot intricate and unpredictable. Steven Mayoff shapes his narrative with documentary precision. A complex and humane first novel.
— David Helwig, author of Clyde
“In his first novel, Steven Mayoff has written an insightful chronicle of many lives spanning many years. The novel is structured in a non-linear fashion... it enables the reader to interpret later events in light of earlier ones, and also to do the reverse. By showing us his characters at various stages of their lives, Mayoff infuses the story with a sense of time passing and of time having passed... In the world that Steven Mayoff conjures up in his wise and astute first novel, memory is sometimes fluid, but it is impossible to escape the past.”
— Ian Colford, Galleon Magazine
Steven Mayoff, in Our Lady of Steerage, reveals his gift for guiding us deeply and intricately into the lives of his characters with exquisitely bittersweet insight. We are drawn achingly into Dora’s and Mariasse’s tangled relationship, and the tremulous web of parents, husbands, children, immersed in the tensions of religious faith and cultural heritage in an era where women’s lives are both circumscribed and often tasked with family survival. Too, there are the men, working long hours in garment factories, delis, and taxis, or striving against the odds to be artists. One is reminded of Richler’s Montreal, but without the sardonic wit, and with more tenderness and gentle pathos
— Richard Lemm, author of Shape Of Things To Come and professor of Canadian Literature and Creative Writing