“Under the surface, they felt the whirling currents pull at their bodies, twisting their clothing as if demanding ransom for the passage. I am stronger than you, the river proclaimed. Just let go.”
“There is going to be a child.”
Having survived the Russian Revolution, music lover Zoya and her husband, postal worker Vadim, now have a son. They raise Filip in Yalta, “Russia’s riviera,” providing him with an education that nourishes an artist’s soul: literature, opera, and the study of the distant lands whose stamps he collects.
Filip’s classmate and friend, Galina, daughter of craftsman Ilya and his wife, Ksenia, doesn’t share Filip’s love of learning; but, practical and loyal—and knowing him to be something of a weakling—she proposes marriage on Fillip’s 18th birthday, when he faces a choice from which married men are exempt: join Russia’s Red Army or be shipped to Nazi Germany’s mines and work camps.
They marry, but Germany’s fortunes soon slip, and the occupying Nazis begin to recruit married men, offering “better conditions” to volunteers and their families than they will to men they must conscript. When Filip volunteers, he, Galina, Ilya, and Ksenia embark on a chaotic odyssey: a years-long struggle through deprivation, brutality, and disease. Near the end of the war, after surviving the bombs and fires of Dresden, the men and women are separated, and the four—plus, eventually, Galina’s newborn baby—must make their perilous way back together, to a new life.
Close third-person narration and a clear, chronological timeline transport the reader into story. Style derives not from emotionally-charged prose but from elegant syntax and precise word choice. Historical and psychological research clearly informs this tale, but author Marina Antropow Cramer remains in the shadows, never revealing her hand. Highly recommended.