According to the Mailbox Monday blog, “Mailbox Monday is a gathering place for readers to share the books that came into their house last week and explore great book blogs. Warning: Mailbox Monday can lead to envy, toppling TBR piles and humongous wish lists.”
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A few weeks ago, I received an e-mail from a representative of Glagoslav Publications. According to their web site:
Glagoslav Publications is an independent British-Dutch press specializing in the publication and worldwide distribution of English and Dutch language translations of fiction and non-fiction titles by Russian, Ukrainian and Belarusian authors.
My friend Michelle and I have had many conversations about the difficulty of finding international fiction here in the US, and so I was happy to accept two titles from Glagoslav for review. They arrived this week.
Khatyn by Ales Adamovich
It is a quiet place, with lush green grass covering the location of the former Belorussian village. A village that was burned to the ground with its inhabitants in 1943. Anyone familiar with this small corner of Eastern Europe is chilled to the bone by the events that transpired there, and the village’s name, Khatyn, has now come to embody a horrific national tragedy. But tragedy is not all this name embodies, for it also reminds people of the tremendous courage of those who fought for the life and freedom of their country.
It is the story of this village and the events that surround its annihilation that are the focus of Ales Adamovich’s novel Khatyn, which was written on the basis of historical documents. The author, himself a World War II veteran and partisan, depicts the reality of the partisan resistance to fascism in Belorussia.
The main character is a man named Florian, who in his memories returns to events that transpired some thirty years ago, when as a teenager he joined a partisan unit and met his future wife, Glasha. He witnesses how the villagers of Khatyn are burned alive as reprisal for supporting the partisan movement. The monstrous cruelty of the death squad and its commanders manifested itself in the act of punishing the entire community for the deeds of those who had helped the partisans. The village, composed mostly of the elderly and mothers with children, was locked inside a barn. After being covered with dry hay, the barn was set ablaze with the families inside.
Over half a century later, Adamovich’s story about the courage of ordinary people has not lost its immediacy. Today, the world is still marred by war crimes committed against communities of noncombatant. Khatyn is a testament to an event that must not be forgotten, and to a reality that must not be repeated.
The Time of Women by Elena Chizhova
Life is not easy in the Soviet Union at mid-20th century, especially for a factory worker who becomes an unwed mother. But Antonina is lucky to get a room in a communal apartment that she and her little girl share with three old women. Glikeria is the daughter of former serfs. Ariadna comes from a wealthy family and speaks French.
Yevdokia is illiterate and bitter. All have lost their families, all are deeply traditional, and all become “grannies” to little Suzanna. Only they secretly name her Sofia. And just as secretly they impart to her the history of her country as they experienced it: the Revolution, the early days of the Soviet Union, the blockade and starvation of World War II.
The little girl responds by drawing beautiful pictures, but she is mute. If the authorities find out she will be taken from her home and sent to an institution. When Antonina falls desperately ill, the grannies are faced with the reality of losing the little girl they love – unless a stepfather can be found before it is too late. And for that, they need a miracle.