Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Silence of Trees

Just finished reading Valya Dudycz Lupescu's book, The Silence of the Trees. I enjoyed it - but thought the first half was a lot better than the last half. In fact, I wanted to just hurry up and finish it, although, I knew where it was going and there didn't seem to be a point to finishing it. (That sounds like a contradiction, doesn't it?) I hate saying negative things like that out loud. Forgive me. Overall I do recommend reading the book.

The writing was beautiful and the story - about the atrocities at the end of the war - tragic and important. The layers of Ukrainian myth and folklore gave the whole piece an other-worldly quality which was quite enchanting.

One of the pleasures of owning books is being able to mark favorite passages. Here's mine from page 90:

"What do you know of it? Nothing. You know nothing of what I lost. Nothing." I pounded my fist on the table. "For all your schooling, you have not learned about life. You can't learn history from just a few books. History lives in the people who were there, not in numbers. Not in names of battles ..."

Sunday, January 15, 2012

All alone

It's one of those all too rare afternoons. I'm home alone. What to do? I light a candle. Then answer the phone. Yes, I tell my overly-health conscious university-going son. I'll marinate those chicken breasts for you. Then I sneak myself a glass of wine - in the best house glass. Right. I don't have to sneak. Only the black cat - who's too old to see properly - and the golden dog - who doesn't care - can see what I'm doing.

The phone rings again. Teenage daughter at her weekend job. She forgot her cellphone. Could I drop it off when I walk the canine? Sure. Then I wait. Will the husband come home, saying he forgot his wallet? I listen for the sound of wheels in the snowy driveway. But the peace of silence stays on.

And then I walk around the house and think. Things aren't so bad, are they? I have a house, warm with twenty-some years of memories. I've finally got myself that new couch I promised to get when my first book came out. I have books - okay, just one of mine - but shelves and shelves and shelves of wonderful books that I've spent countless hours reading. I have a sweet little laptop which lets me access the whole internet for way more time than I should.

But this time alone is too precious to share with my laptop. I stare at the little candle - my fireplace substitute - and I think. Things aren't so bad. Things really aren't so bad.

And then I marinate the chicken, fold some laundry, sweep the floor, and pile on the gear to face a prairie January walk with the dog to drop off the cellphone.





Sunday, January 8, 2012

Marie Halun Bloch

I recently discovered the author Marie Halun Bloch. Several of her books focus on 20th century Ukrainian issues, which was what attracted me to her work. Bloch was born in Ukraine in 1910 - making her a bit older than my mom. She immigrated to the States in 1914 - so that would be before the Bolshevik Revolution. Very good timing on her parents' part. Bloch died in 1998.

I managed to track down two of her books for young people. The Two Worlds of Damyan (published by Atheneum in 1966) tells the story of a young student living in Kiev who uses the Dniepro River to practice swimming. In his dreams, he's swimming at the Olympics against the Americans. Considering this was written in '66 - this Soviet competition against the Americans would be strong.

The two worlds mentioned in the title are the Soviet world and the private family lives. In the Soviet world there is no religion and no Ukraine. In the private family world, they celebrate Christmas and also the dream of Ukrainian independence.

In Displaced Person (William Morrow, 1978) Bloch explores the confusion of a young boy - a Ukrainian refugee. He, along with the Ost workers - young people forced into labour by the Nazis - don't want to return to the Soviet homeland. The climax occurs when the Soviets and the Americans share and divide the many war refugees from eastern Europe. At one point, Bloch refers to the forced repatriation and massacre at Lienz, Austria in May of 1945.

It's an important book because it tells a true story about the casualties of war that has received little attention. Here's a quote:

"It would appear ever so neat and orderly - for only orderly wars are fought in history books - with dates fore and aft to box them nicely in. But everyone who had been there would know it all for a lie. Because the truth was anarchy and chaos, friends where enemies should be and enemies among one's own..." (page 103)

My only question is: why did it take me until 2012 to read these books? I hope they get reprinted, because interest in these issues is continuing to grow.