Saturday, November 14, 2015

The story behind Broken Stone


Let me share a bit about my upcoming release Broken Stone by Rebelight Publishing. It’s a middle grade novel, set like Red Stone, in the early 1930s. Broken Stone continues the exploration of my mom’s childhood.  The first book, Red Stone, (previously published as The Kulak’s Daughter) happens primarily in two places: Federofka, a tiny village 35 kilometers northwest Zhitomir (about an hour west of Kiev) and in Yaya, Siberia, in the Kemerovo Oblast (about half-way between Tomsk and Irkutsk). Red Stone, told from the viewpoint of an eleven-year-old girl, explores the impact of collectivization on a kulak family.

The sequel, Broken Stone, begins in the Soviet Union (again in the Zhitomir area) and moves to East Prussia. The children travel to the Baltic port city of Königsberg and then head to a small farming town called Kreuzburg (about twenty kilometers south of Königsberg) where they settle in with relatives.

One of the things that has made my research so compelling is that the homes of my mom’s childhood have basically been wiped off the map. Federofka, her birth town, is now Kaliniwka. Königsberg became Kaliningrad, and Kreuzburg is Slavskoye.  After 1945, East Prussia—a  former province of Germany—was divided between the Soviet Union and Poland. And so the Kaliningrad area, along with Slavskoye, is part of the current Russian Federation.

Thus, my mom’s past, before immigrating to Canada in 1953, was completely dismantled. Her father’s windmill was literally taken apart and used to build the new collective manager’s office. Her mother was buried in a shallow, unmarked grave in the frozen ground of Siberia, while her father, a victim of the 1937 Great Terror, was dumped into a mass grave along with thousands of other ex-kulaks. Only a few photographs and some archived secret police files give clues to a crushed past.

Mothers and daughters have, perhaps, one of most complex of human relationships. Ours was no different. By exploring my mom’s past, I’m basically trying to figure out what made her tick (and how that affects me). She could never tell a story of her life in a straight forward chronological order. It came out in bits and pieces, at the most unexpected times. My retelling of her childhood years under Stalin and then Hitler, is an effort to create narrative out of the jumble of emotion that underlines memory.

Broken Stone is about a broken family and a young girl trying to grow up with a foot in two strongly opposing political regimes. She’s torn between her father, still left behind in the Soviet Union, and her own future in fascist Germany. It’s a quiet story. The plot points belong to a girl in transition from childhood to adulthood, from communism to Nazism, from dependent to self-sufficient, from sad to hopeful. It’s also an attempt by me to give my own family some roots. I hope you like it.