Sunday, February 28, 2010

Cry out of Russia and other old stories

Finished reading another memoir, Cry Out of Russia, by Anna Fischer. This is a self-published work and I met the author last year at a geneology conference in Medicine Hat, Alberta. (The book is available through the University of North Dakota - Germans from Russia Heritage Collection.) Technology has made self-publishing such a great way to pass on family stories. I'd never considered it myself - but had I known how difficult a journey publishing was - I honestly admit I might have considered it. Of course I'm relieved that I didn't, yet there are definite advantages to self-publishing. The big one is that you have total control over the final product.

The negatives? Well, there are many disadvantages to self-publishing. The one I noticed in this book is the poor editing. But then, the writer is a woman in her eighties - so I'm not trying to be overly critical - I totally admire her for doing this. Like my mother, she probably only had a grade three or four education. Still, it would be so simple to have someone (a college student, perhaps) review the text for basic grammar and style. In this case a lot of the German words were misspelled. Why would someone go to the expense of self-publishing and not have the basics double-checked? Editing aside, I found Cry Out of Russia to be a heart-wrenching story of a woman's life during a time and in a place that has not had a lot of publicity. Anna never got to be a child and I'm amazed at how strong she continues to be. I understand now why the Germans from Russia have continued to support each other.

The photos in the book were an excellent addition - making the book feel like a family album. When I see the photos of her extended family - those that got shipped to Siberia - I think of my mother and her family. The tragedy of the Germans from Russia - like every tragedy - needs individual faces to be understood. The whole experience of reading this book felt like an intimate chat with an old woman, baring her soul. I'm so sorry, Anna, that your life was so very hard. Thank you for telling your story. You are a true survivor.

Which reminds me... I had an afternoon chat with a local man who didn't come out of the Soviet Union until 1972. He'd been separated from his family since 1944 when the German army retreated, taking the German civilians with them. This man now lives on a quiet street, living a quiet life - his neighbours have no idea what a life he's lived.

That's what I like about being a writer - we get to shine flashlights on the secrets - whether they're under the bed, old maps and photographs covered with cobwebs; in the proverbial closet, an old worn jacket, amongst the fine clothes; or in the old letters, refolded, stained, and written with now illegible and fading script. Then, as writers, we get to add our imaginations to these truths and create story. So in spite of feeling discouraged (yes) I've no choice but to continue exploring and writing. Curiosity hasn't killed this cat yet.


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