The prophet is always a problem for those who feel they have the answers.

When The Temptations of Big Bear was awarded the Canadian Governor-General’s Award in fiction in 1973, a large talent became public. Prior to that, we had known Rudy Wiebe as a prize-winning short story writer on the university scene. His first novel, Peace Shall Destroy Many, with its bluntly honest rendering of a wartime Saskatchewan Mennonite community, grated on evangelical nerves. Wiebe was, at the time of its publication, the editor of the Mennonite Brethren Herald. He left the post soon after.

That first book, as awkward and angular as its young Mennonite protagonist, Thom, held much promise. His writing skill, combined with the anguish of honesty, has both deepened and grown, so that I find myself seeing Wiebe as Mrs. Wiens sees her son Thom at the end of Peace Shall Destroy Many: “Huge before her, staring skyward … driving them towards the brightest star in the heavens.”

Wiebe, who is a forthright Christian still active within the evangelical Mennonite Brethren church, looks every inch the prophet: a heavy beard, a straggle of dark hair, a high cheek-boned “lean and hungry look.” For a number of years a professor of Canadian literature and creative writing at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Wiebe last year was writer-at-large at the University of Calgary. His insights into the human condition have successfully transcended cultural barriers, so that he is profoundly credible when describing an Indian chief, a Metis rebel, or a Canadian Mennonite.

The insistent question of his novels, whether answered by the questioning Thom, the Christlike David Epp (Blue Mountains of China), the Cree Indian chief, Big Bear (The Temptations of Big Bear), ...

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