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Doukhobors, Hells Angels, and rock ’n’ roll

The Descendants is a new novel by Castlegar-raised Robert Chursinoff, in which former lovers Jonah Seeger and Ruby Samarodin return to the West Kootenay seven years after an encounter with the Hells Angels. Jonah is battling PTSD after serving as a marine while Ruby is a Doukhobor and a rock star with a substance use disorder. The book is now available in local stores. Chursinoff (pictured below) has been a drummer for many popular bands and a scriptwriter and video editor. He spoke to us by phone from his home in Vancouver.

What is your book about?
The Descendants is a contemporary story about Doukhobors from the West Kootenay.

But wholly fictional?
It’s fictional but I take a lot from my early years growing up in Castlegar and in the Doukhobor community. One of my main characters is a musician and having toured extensively with Tegan and Sara, Ben Lee, the Belle Game, and a host of other bands, I draw from that experience a lot. Not quite autobiography, but it’s a compilation of people and experiences from throughout my life as well as a bunch of fictionalized elements.

How long has it been in the works?
About 14 years with a long break in between to live a little more and write more and read more. I started in 2008 and wrote for a year and a half. And I picked it up again in 2017 and really dove in and got some editors to help me and was awarded a mentorship. That really kicked me into gear. I think the first draft was done probably in the summer of 2019. Nightwood picked it up in March 2022.

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What initially motivated you to write it?
There’s the saying “write what you know.” Because I’m a Doukhobor and grew up in the community, I wanted to do something around that, something contemporary. There’s a lot of Doukhobor fiction and non-fiction out there that’s very folksy, if I can say that. I wanted to do something a bit more gritty. Hopefully I’ve pulled that off. I think readers will get a more authentic experience and a little more depth of knowledge of the community from someone who grew up in it.

Was there anything you particularly had to research?
Definitely. One of my main characters was inspired by a young U.S. marine. He was fresh from fighting in Iraq in 2006. I met him on a remote beach surfing in Costa Rica and we had a really candid conversation about his experiences and that inspired my character Jonah. I’ve kept in touch with him, and he gave me feedback on the chapters that Jonah is in as a marine. Also, I don’t know any Hells Angels, thankfully. I had to do a lot of research about the Hells Angels and the inner workings of that biker club.

For a book that had such a long road to publication, what does it feel like to finally have it out?
I recently had a baby girl, so it kind of feels like birthing something. Not quite as thrilling as having a child, but it feels amazing. There were a lot of times I felt I might give up. It’s a very solitary endeavor to write a novel. I’m glad I didn’t. I’m glad I pushed through. When I signed that contract with Nightwood, I was thrilled.

This is your first book?
Yes. I’m starting on my second and third simultaneously. I’m raring to go.

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