Tuesday, March 11, 2008

"The Whisperers"

By Orlando Figes, (author of Natasha's Dance - which I'd heard of - and will now HAVE to read) I've been spending my daughter's soccer practices totally engrossed in this amazing book. It's been such a powerful experience and articulates the silence that - for years - shrouded my mom's childhood. Why stop at my mom? Stalin also destroyed my grandfather, my grandmother, three uncles and numerous other family members. So The Whisperers - subtitled Private Life in Stalin's Russia was about my family. The whispering has not stopped. Even here in Canada, my mom gets extremely upset when I talk about the truth of what happened to her father. He'd taken a false name to try and hide from Stalin's henchman, throughout the thirties, and my mother was so worried that I'd let this information out. She's been living in Canada since 1953 - and this is still a traumatic event for her.

Reading this book also let me appreciate my strained relationship with her. She was motherless from the age of 12 and her father had to disappear in order to live a few more years (until he was rounded up and shot during the Great Terror of 1937). Figes managed to get into the psyche of these damaged citizens of the Stalin regime. He got into the silence that has became their way of surviving.

At the end he acknowledges, "For us these are stories, for them it is their lives." (p.663) Earlier on he quotes Varlam Shalamov in Kolyma Tales: "A human being survives by his ability to forget."

Both my parents survived the Gulag by forgetting. That's why they came to Canada. And here I am digging, prodding and remembering.

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