This Ottawa writer is all-too familiar with issues of language acquisition, displacement and the importance of cultural identity. Indeed, these are some of the themes she writes about in her multi-generational family saga, The Amber Coast, as it follows the story of a Latvian family before and after World War II. Ilse Zandstra was born in Latvia, spent several of her early childhood years in a displaced persons camp in a defeated Germany, before her family immigrated first to Sweden and then to Canada. Ilse has lived abroad and travelled widely but Canada is the country she loves and calls home.
A science graduate of Mc Gill University (B.Sc. 1965; M.Sc. 1966), she is a biologist and a writer, having published numerous scientific articles as well as two Spanish-language children’s books. These - Ukuku conoce al sol and Ukuku salva el bosque – about a Peruvian spectacled bear, are selling well in South America.
After marrying, Ilse and her husband, Hubert, moved to Melfort, Saskatchewan and after two years, on to Ithaca, New York, where Hubert earned a Ph.D. degree. His work in international agricultural development took the young family to Colombia S.A., then to the far-off Philippines and back to Canada. Once their two sons had graduated from high school, Ilse and Hubert headed back to the Philippines and then to Peru, before retiring in Ottawa.
Ilse knows all about adapting to change, learning a new language, making new friends. As an accompanying spouse overseas, Ilse was often not allowed to work, but she kept busy and fulfilled by aiding local charities, editing, translating, and writing. In Canada, Ilse has worked as a health inspector, and as a research assistant in health science. World travel made Ilse acutely aware of the importance of learning the language and customs of each new country, but she also realized that holding on to her own identity and traditions was equally necessary. She maintains her Latvian language and many of her country’s traditions, and is an active participant in both the Canadian and the Latvian community in Ottawa.