Invisible Shadows is a story about a Ukrainian immigrant family in Canada growing up in a culturally homogeneous community and their children then thrusting out into mainstream careers, confronting their fear of cultural differences in their own way.
The story begins in the early 1940’s with Ivan and Marusha Zamek striving to raise three children and to develop marginal land into a farm near Ituna Saskatchewan, a district populated mostly by Ukrainian immigrants. During that era, many Anglophones looked down on immigrants with a sense of disdain and superiority. Tony Stafford, the local teacher was different, happy to contribute to their assimilation. In one instance he accepts an invitation to visit the Zamek’s home for tea, trudging the mile with his family through the wintery landscape. They are happily greeted, eagerly shown the farm, offered ethnic food, and driven home. The Zamek’s sincere hospitality and quiet determination in coping with hardships impresses them even as it disturbs their preconceived notions.
The story is rich in dialogue and humour as it covers the developing careers of the Zamek offspring. Stefan makes a personal decision to change his identity to assimilate as a school teacher, and even to foresake his true love, a Greek merchant’s daughter, to marry the principal’s daughter. During the fashionable wedding, a guest of the Zamek family embarrasses everyone by his drink induced exuberance, causing added recriminations against Ukrainian immigrants, which becomes one of the factors in the ensuing divorce. On the other hand, Slavko serves successfully as an air force pilot without camouflaging his background, and is eventually recognized nationally for his service to Canada. Natasha marries a Chinese-Canadian doctor, who was encouraged to always excel to overcome any restrictive prejudices. Their pre-marital pregnancy challenged the traditional reaction of both families, yet she blissfully manages the frequent cultural confrontations the marriage causes in her life.
Although the emphasis is on the children, theirs and those of other families, Ivan and Marusha share a life-long deep love, and also have a personal secret which unfolds in the story.
When Ivan dies Marusha relives their life at the family gathering, an emotional narration typifying the feelings of so many new-comers who are proud to call themselves Canadian.