Saturday, April 4, 2009

The Unknown Gulag by Lynne Viola

Just finished reading Lynne Viola's book, The Unknown Gulag. Quite overwhelming, actually. This book is the story of the kulaks. And it's not a fictional story, it's the real story. I was afraid that reading it would put holes in my mid grade novel. I was afraid that somehow my mother's memory would prove false, or that my imagination would be weak. But except for one point - I can feel strong about my protagonist and her twelve year old view as the daughter of a kulak. (I'll talk about that one point sometime later.)

Aleksandr Sozhenitsyn opened the can of worms that was the Gulag. It was 1973 when The Gulag Archipelago was published in the West. Thirty years later, Anne Applebaum's Gulag, A History came out. That same year I was introduced to the research of Donald Miller, (who's written several books about those years in an area once known as Volhynia). His book, Under Arrest, has one of my mom's cousins on the cover. In that book my grandfather's arrest and execution is listed along with thousands of other kulaks. 

The people who have survived those decades lived in silence - afraid, always afraid. (No wonder there's so much alcoholism in Russia.) Now they're old. If a tree falls in a forest and no one hears it, does it still make a sound? (or something like that).  

I'd like to recommend these books as background reading to my own little book. In Viola's conclusion, she writes: "History once denied through lies is now threatened by obscurity; forgetting has taken the place of falsification." (p. 193)

Putin, this is for you. (Ha! If only ...) I'd tell him to put real history back into his schools' history books, to rebuild his country, by facing the truth about its past. I dare him.  As Viola says, "... there are no national monuments to the kulaks. Their graves lie scattered and unmarked ... the death toll through the 1930s roughly half a million people ..." (p. 183) 

Visit the Memorial Society website to learn how the survivors of the Gulag are trying hard to keep the truth alive. Or check out the wikipedia entry and learn how Russia is still trying to keep the truth from the public. And in case, you don't have time to read the whole entry, let me mention that as recently as December, 2008, the Russian authorities removed several computer disks which contained the Memorial Society's collection of information to create a Virtual Gulag Museum online. (Now, supposedly, these computer files will all be returned.)

Still, this is all a very current issue. 

3 comments:

Barrie said...

I'll read it. And we gotta figure out a way that I get a signed copy of your book when it comes out. Happy weekend, Gabe!

Stacy Nyikos said...

H0pefully your book will put a very real face on it. One people can relate to!

Donald davidson said...

I think this is a very important book.There is a chapter in Harvest of Sorrow by Robert Conquest abot the deportation of the kulaks