Winnipeg writer and editor Maurice Mierau is the winner of the 2016 Kobzar Literary Award for his book Detachment: An Adoption Memoir, announced in Toronto on Wednesday.
"I'm elated and exhausted at the same time," he said. "I was up late partying with Ukrainian-Canadians."
The $25,000 prize recognizes the best Canadian literature with a Ukrainian-Canadian theme.
Mierau's book follows his family's struggles adopting a three and five-year-old boy from Ukraine in 2005. His older son was diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder because he was abandoned by his birth mother and the adoption put a strain on his marriage, he said.
"It's difficult when kids have been traumatized and they learn that adults are not reliable. It's a struggle for them to attach," he said. "I also struggled to attach myself and I think it had something to do with my father and his own emotional struggles in terms of overcoming the hardships … in his childhood."
In the book, Mierau draws parallels between his sons and his father, who was a Mennonite refugee in the Second World War and was abandoned by his mom by the time he was 10 years old.
"My father witnessed all kinds of horrible things," he said.
Adoptive parents have thanked Mierau for his book and have shared their experiences with adoption, he said.
"Some of them have war refugees in their family who had experiences like my dad did, and some of them have had experiences with foster children — the gamut of things that I write about in the book," he said.
His family is both uncomfortable and happy about the memoir, he said.
"I think that they're happy about the fact that we can actually have discussions both in our family and in some larger circles as well about what the family formation experience is like," he said.
Part of the story was still happening while he was writing the book and it wasn't until he finished the book that he really understood his family's story, he said.
"I've learned that family trumps everything," he said. "Stick together."