Friday, 16 November 2018

Shadows on the Tundra by Dalia Grinkeviciute

translated by Dalija Valiukenas

review by Maryom

in 1941, as the German army advances from the west, thousands of Lithuanians, including 14 year old Dalia and her family, are deported by the Russians. First they're moved east, to work on a beetroot farm, then north to the Siberian arctic where they are part of a project to establish fishing factories along the coast. They have to build their own barracks, work twelve hour days (and more), receive barely enough food to survive on, succumb to lice, malnutrition, scurvy. The conditions are horrendous; life expectancy low. Somehow though, some of them manage to survive.

Based on actual events, in the words Dalia scribbled down and hid when she eventually returned to Lithuania, this book is a gripping, moving account of survival in harsh, inhospitable conditions made worse by lack of the basic human requisites of adequate food and shelter - in fact, existence is only made possible by stealing and burning wood from building supplies, and taking the fish which should be processed and sent south and west to feed Russian cities. 

Dalia isn't asking for our sympathy. There's little reminiscing about life back home. Although she does occasionally contrast 'then' and 'now', she knows that isn't the way to survive. Bad as the situation as, she has no choice but to accept it, make the best of it, and not give on on the hope that one day she will make it out alive.

The mass deportation of Lithuanians, Latvians and Estonians was something I was aware of from history lessons, as were the often crazy, ill-informed schemes the Socialist bureaucracy came up with for harnessing the potential of their vast country. But dealing with people in their thousands and millions deprives them of humanity. This book brings a very personal insight into the suffering caused by these actions, putting a face on at least one of the nameless thousands involved.

Maryom's review - 5 stars 
Publisher - Peirene Press
Genre - Adult Translated Fiction/non-fiction

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