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Olga's Story: Three Continents, Two World Wars and Revolution--one Woman's Epic Journey through the Twentieth Centuryby Stephanie Williams
Synopses & Reviews
July 1900: Far away from anywhere, in a village in southern Siberia, a black banner tied to a high wooden gate was drifting in the light summer breeze. It was a warning to all those who passed the rough wooden house in the small hamlet of Yelan that someone with diphtheria lay within. The villagers who passed the house--the sons and daughters of Cossack families who had lived there for generations, peasants who had come to escape the famines of the southern Volga, and elderly Polish revolutionaries who had been exiled there some thirty-five years before--crossed themselves and murmured expressions of dismay. But two-year-old Anya Yunter was already dead.
Poor child. Some said that it was just a case of croup and sometimes croup killed you. But diphtheria--who could do anything about diphtheria? In any case, as everybody knew, a child was lucky to live to grow up. The Yunter family was fortunate. The father, Semyon Vassilyevich, worked for one of the richest men in this part of Siberia. He already had four healthy children, and, what's more, there was another on the way.
The white coffin was tiny. It stood on a small table in a corner of the long, low room, two fat candles at its head and feet. Above it, clouds of incense rose from a small hanging censer. On a rough wooden shelf nailed into the wall, the red glow of the lampada illuminated the Yunter family's most treasured possession: the precious face of Saint Vladimir, shrouded in a heavy silver frame. Beyond it, a portrait of His Majesty the Tsar stuck out unevenly from the wall of whitewashed logs. Outside the sun was shining, but in the room the windows were closed and the curtains were drawn. Within the coffin, framed by the wild flowers placed on her pillow, baby Anya's tiny moon-shaped face lay closed to life, as pale as the linen sheet tucked beneath her chin.
The heat of the day intensified, but still people from the village came. One by one they passed in front of the coffin, making the sign of the cross and muttering a quiet prayer over her body. Several of the women, their heads covered in dark scarves, bent to kiss the forehead of the dead child. As they did so, the faces of their own dead children materialized before them and sobs rose in their throats. Incense mingled with the fragrance of flowers and the odors of poorly washed bodies, tobacco, and drink. For a time the room in the small log house was crowded; then people drifted away, out into the light of the hot July day.
Olga never remembered who told her the circumstances of her birth. Perhaps it was her godmother, Yevlampia Semyonovna. Most likely, it was Filipovna, the family housekeeper and her old nurse, who first told her the story. How her mother had cried and cried when she first knew she was expecting another child. And how the days surrounding Olga's birth were terrible.
First her sister Anya had come down with what seemed to be a cold; she had pointed to her throat and said it was sore. But the next day her glands had been so swollen she could not move her neck. She was feverish, and began to cough. Filipovna pushed the other children--her sister Lydia, and brothers, Vasya, Volodya, and Kolya--outside, and mounted a curtain around Anya's bed. Her mother, Anna Vassilyevna, ponderous and heavy with her pregnancy, disappeared behind it to sit and nurse Anya. The children were forbidden to see their little sister. That night Anya's brea
A London journalist presents the dramatic saga of her grandmother's eventful life, from her youth in the remote Russian region of Siberia, through the Russian Revolution and its aftermath, through the terrible events of World War II, to her flight from Chinese Communist forces, in a story that spans two revolutions, two world wars, and three continents. 20,000 first printing.
A London journalist presents the saga of her grandmother's eventful life, from her youth in Siberia, through the Russian Revolution and the events of World War II, and to her final flight from Chinese Communist forces.
About the Author
The daughter of an army officer, Stephanie Williams was born in Canada, and has lived in the United States, Hong Kong and England, where she worked as a journalist for such publications as The Sunday Times, the Wall Street Journal, and the New Statesman. Williams lives in North London with her husband and two grown children.
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