One More Year by Sana Krasikov

a nutshell: this debut collection holds eight stories of immigrants scattered across challenging circumstances, hailing from the no-longer Soviet Empire

a line: “To her, friendship still meant coming face-to-face with another’s unmediated existence”

an image: a woman knows she’d have to overcome the urge to look for her ex-partner, like a gaunt animal migrating uphill before a flash flood without quite knowing why

a thought: at one point Krasikov writes that a character knew anyone could be fearless as long as there was no other option, which struck a chord

a fact: for a month between homes Krasikov slept in one of the ‘war rooms’ at a law firm where she worked, which had a decisive impact on her becoming a writer – writing is all about finding a place for personal freedom in the public sphere, she says

want to read One More Year? visit here

I Have Come Through Torments Within These Walls by Annasoltan Kekilova (tr. James Womack)

a nutshell: this devastating poem was written by Soviet-era poet & dissident Annasoltan Kekilova in a Turkmen psychiatric hospital, where she had been detained since 1973 after she advocated for women’s rights in Turkmenistan

a line: “I am tainted and would clean myself, but it is futile”

an image: it felt to me like the poet’s repetition of “within these walls” powerfully conveyed a sense of the suppression she had so long endured – walled off by both the institution and by the Central Committee of the USSR Communist Party

a thought: I found this poem completely heart-breaking, particularly with the knowledge that Kekilova died due to forcible medical treatment while still detained; she was only 41 years old at her death

a fact: Kekilova’s poems were smuggled out to her mother and son, though many were lost and a house fire destroyed much of her writing – I learned more about her life & work through this article

want to read more of Kekilova’s poetry? visit here

Shadows on the Tundra by Dalia Grinkevičiutė (tr. Delija Valiukenas)

a nutshell: a desolate piece of Lithuanian survival literature in which Dalia recounts her deportation, aged 14, to a Siberian gulag and the years of gruelling manual labour that followed in the Arctic tundra

a line“Images from the past can be more painful than a branding iron. They tear me apart. But they’ve also done me a favour. They’ve ignited a furious desire to live, to persevere…”

an image: Dalia’s appalling descriptions of gangrenous, immobile deportees disintegrating on their pallets or freezing to death with hallucinations of hot coffee in tortuous blizzards sear themselves onto the memory

a thought: reading her memories of such brutal suffering, it’s sad to note that Dalia never saw these pages come out into the open; fearful of the KGB, she buried the scraps of paper in a garden and it was only in 1991 – four years after her death – that they were found

a factmost of the fellow deportees depicted by Dalia are women and children, reflecting how 70% of the 130,000+ people among the Soviet mass deportations from Lithuania were women and children


want to read Shadows on the Tundra? visit here

Soviet Milk by Nora Ikstena (tr. Margita Gailitis)

a nutshell: Ikstena braids together two very moving accounts of growing up under the Soviet occupation of Latvia – one from a mother & one from her daughter – to portray the crushing weight of societal oppression/terror on families

a line“We were destined for a somnambulant existence and condemned to call it life”

an image: milk is a recurring symbol – at one point a teacher is rendered speechless by the mother suggesting her daughter’s hatred of milk may stem from the fact that she didn’t breastfeed so as to protect her child from the breast milk of a person who didn’t want to live (elsewhere the mother refers to it as the bitter milk of incomprehension, of extinction)

a thought: the daughter’s realisation that her struggle to connect her mother to life & light in this world would alway end in stalemate hit me hard as a profound comment on the impossibility of banishing another person’s demons

a fact: between the individual stories, this novella gives many insights into existing under “the Russian boot” in 20th-century Latvia, e.g. travel requests often met with netselesoobrazno (non-essential) which regularly prevented people taking trips abroad – even for family members’ funerals


want to read Soviet Milk? visit here

The Unwomanly Face of War by Svetlana Alexievich (tr. Pevear & Volokhonsky)

a nutshell: a history book like no other, Alexievich seeks out & shares voices of Soviet women who lived WW2 on front lines, the home front & in occupied territories; their stories are utterly crushing, occasionally joyous, fixedly unforgettable 

a line: “Give her a man’s haircut.” “But she’s a woman.” “No, she’s a soldier. She’ll be a woman again after the war”

an image: a medical assistant remembers the death of a soldier she loved and her surprise at realising the others knew she loved him – she recalls smiling with hope that he too knew it, and her first ever kiss is a goodbye kiss at his burial

a thought: many testimonies are from women who were just 16 or 17 when they joined the war effort; some even talk of having “grown” – physically – in the field

a fact: over 500,000 Soviet women participated on a par with men in WW2


want to read The Unwomanly Face of War? visit here