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My mother was born in Estonia close to Tallinn in 1921 and had a charmed childhood and youth. The country was finally free from foreign occupation and was full of hope for the future. Her father was a retired Czar’s army officer who had a sizable estate complete with forests, a lake and wheat fields, and she bonded fiercely with this land and her wonderful big family.
A wandering gypsy told her that she would leave her beloved homeland and never return. In spite of blossoming into a gorgeous and educated young woman who attracted the wealthiest young man in town, fate threw her life off course. The Soviets invaded in 1939 and soon deported thousands of innocent people to Siberia. The Germans invaded soon afterwards and occupied the country for several years. Her husband disappeared and she heard reports of rapidly advancing Red Army soldiers using young women as sex slaves. Her parents urged her to flee to southern Germany to wait out the duration of the war and she got on a ship and sailed to German-occupied Poland in August of 1944.
Angels must have been looking after her, because she was the last civilian to cross a bridge over the Oder River before it was blown up to stop the advancing Red Army and she survived the firebombing of Dresden and relied on the kindness of strangers for many years. She came alone to Canada as a penniless refugee in 1948 and found good jobs in Quebec City and in Montreal, where she met my father. She moved to Vancouver with him in 1950 and helped him in his lab at the new medical school at UBC.
The Cold War made it impossible for her to communicate with her Estonian family, and it was not until1956 that she finally re-established limited contact. What happened to her and her family was a symbol of what happened to millions of Eastern Europeans: Some were deported to Siberia to perish in Stalin’s Gulag system of labor camps, some lived under a reign of terror in the Soviet Union, and others were forced to flee and live in exile. One of the reasons I wrote the book was to expose a major crime against humanity with the hope that it will never happen again. Another reason was to show how my mother’s supernatural courage can inspire others and help them keep their own problems in perspective. It is a story that portrays the triumph of the human spirit in the face of ferocious adversity. My mother inspired me and always wanted someone to tell her story.
In 1991, when the Soviet Union and the Cold War were beginning to dissolve, my mother and I visited Estonia. She had an emotional reunion with her beloved brother, a Gulag survivor, after 47 years of forced separation. And I had a chance to meet my Estonian family without fear.
“A wonderful book.”
-Hillary Rodham Clinton[quote]
“A gripping page-turner. Get this book.”[/quote]
“An amazing story.”[/quote]
“I appreciate the book.”[/quote]
“I couldn’t put it down.”[/quote]
-Bonnie Miller, prominent psychologist and wife of the American ambassador to Greece