Gerhard and Albrecht Storr are twins, though they share little in common beyond an eccentric upbringing. Raised by a father devoted to the powers of “Personal Magnetism” and a German-immigrant mother unhappy with life in Winnipeg and obsessed with the ghosts of her past, the two brothers grow further and further apart, eventually fighting on opposite sides of the Second World War.
Exhaustion is overwhelming Fika, a young Soviet woman crossing the Polar icecap bound for Canada. It’s midwinter 1960, and she’s lost her companions to a frosty death, can barely carry her own supplies, and must ski for another month to reach civilization.
How these two gripping tales on their separate sides of the globe unfold and come together is one of the many accomplishments of this extraordinary story. With Marilyn Bowering’s superb gift for storytelling, finely realized characters, and lyrical language, Visible Worlds resonates with the mystery and mysticism of the worlds we see and those we can only imagine.
First published to admiring reviews in Canada last fall, Bowering's powerful second novel (after To All Appearances a Lady, 1990) chronicles the tribulations of a Winnipeg family through WWII and the turmoil that follows. Twin brothers at the center of the story reflect parental differences: Gerhard inherits his mother's love of European culture, heading to prewar Germany to study music, while Albrecht stays home to marry the girl next-door. Their father studies "personal magnetism" and falls for a fortune-teller whom he has despised for years. Albrecht's friend, Nate, invents an imaginary companion after his sister burns to death, and Nate's father runs off with a tiger tamer. After the war, Gerhard, who was forced to become a German soldier, disappears into a Soviet labor camp, while Albrecht and Nate find themselves caught up in Korea. Interspersed throughout the narrative is the vividly imagined trek of Fika, a tough Soviet woman who crosses the North Pole to find a new life in Canada. Bowering maps the overlapping territory between science and spiritualism, love and madness. Her family melodrama, reminiscent of John Irving's work in its circus imagery and horrifying losses, occasionally seems misaligned with the Alistair MacLean-like war and ice adventures. But Bowering's characters, steeped in the Canadian virtues of stamina and decency, prove so compelling that few would regard the overabundance of imagery or story lines as anything but a wealth of poetic reflection on tragedy and human endurance.