google-site-verification: google65e716d80989ba07.html The Stovepipe: A Memoir with Many Lessons | The Armchair Genealogist

The Stovepipe: A Memoir with Many Lessons



When we write our family history stories, it’s important to tell our tales from a place of empathy. Sometimes, we have to wait to share those stories.  Regardless of whether they are personal memories or they belong to our ancestors, the pain can often get in the way of recalling an honest account. A story-line that tells a difficult truth but does not live in a place of anger or revenge is key to telling true narratives that will resonate with readers. It is this very quality that is demonstrated so profoundly in Bonnie Virag’s memoir, The Stovepipe.

Regardless of whether you are a family history writer, a memoirist, a family historian or you just love a good book you will discover honest and incredible emotions in The Stovepipe. This is one of those books that will stay with you long after you have finished reading. You will think about these young girls over and over again, and it will certainly cause you to wonder if you really have anything to complain about in your life.


I was first introduced to The Stovepipe because it takes place in my neighborhood. The author, Bonnie Virag was born in Simcoe, Ontario. She grew up in the 1940’s and 50’s in the rural area of Southern Ontario known as Norfolk County.  At the age of four, Bonnie was removed from her mother’s care by the Children’s Aid Society along with her twin sister Betty and two sisters and a brother. Their lives would intersect throughout the next fourteen years, as they became permanent fixtures and collateral damage of the foster care system.

In The StovepipeBonnie recalls with great clarity her time in foster care until she is 19 years old.  Please don’t let the subject matter stop you from reading The Stovepipe.  It is the grace with which Bonnie handles this difficult subject that makes her book a fantastic read. Bonnie has found the most empathetic and gentle place to tell her story. This memoir is not filled with revenge or hatred. While there are many painful moments in this memoir, the reader shares a wide range of emotions with Bonnie and her sisters and brother. You will laugh, cry, cheer them on and yes get angry, after all isn’t that what we want in a great book.

Bonnie’s healthy perspective with which she writes this book is a lesson to us as family history writers. Let Bonnie’s book be a wonderful example of how we can tell those painful stories.


This moving story of a young girl finding her way under very difficult circumstances; demonstrates the power of sisterly love and the will to survive with grace. Through this honest and stirring memoir, Bonnie not only draws from her own memories but also consults her sisters in the writing of this book and enlists the records of the Children’s Aid Society.




Recently, I had the pleasure of meeting Bonnie at a local author’s fair. I have great respect for any writer who can turn a very difficult time in her life into a work of art shared with such poise.


I hope you pick up a copy of The Stovepipe or download it to your e-reader. I know you will not be disappointed. While Bonnie may have grew up in a small town this book is no small feat. Her story and writing has received national acclaim. The Stovepipe was awarded a Kirkus Star and designated as Kirkus Reviews’ Best of 2012.


There are many lessons in this memoir, resilience, family love and of course, let’s not forget how we must do better for the children caught in the foster care system. For the family history writer, learn to tell an emotional and painful story with compassion through Bonnie's example. Please read The Stovepipe.


Since the author's fair, I have been in contact with Bonnie and she has kindly agreed to an interview. We will talk with Bonnie about her process in writing her book. This interview will be an exclusive in our June newsletter of Storylines.  In the meantime, be sure to sign up for our first issue of Storylines due to arrive in your mailbox early next week and grab a copy of  The Stovepipeand give it read so you'll be ready for our interview next month. 

2 comments:

  1. This book sounds really valuable, and I empathize with Bonnie. I certainly agree about the need to tell painful stories with compassion and respect for everyone involved.

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  2. As I read this book, I am stunned at the cruelty of people toward small children. On the other hand, how much better are things now? I am having a hard time putting it down. Bonnie tells the story very well. I will finish it. This is a story that must be told!

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