As of the Sunday check-in for A Round of Words in 80 Days, I’m up to Chapter 23 and about 180,400 words on my WIP, my third Russian historical novel. The story spans 15 years and 3 continents, and I’m up to April 1937, so I think I’m making good progress for the massive ground I have to cover.
Chapter 23 is one of the exclusively Soviet chapters, and entitled “Betrayed by the Revolution.” Even though I’ve had these events planned and in basic outline form for over a decade, actually writing them down is a bit difficult emotionally. I am so sorry I had to kill off former orphanage girl Inessa’s husband Roman, even though his only appearance ever is in this chapter. Inessa’s one of my favorite Soviet characters, and she doesn’t deserve this.
I even feel sorry for the obnoxious Leonid, knowing what’s going to happen to him in probably the next chapter. I was not planning for him to finally redeem his character at the end, but I couldn’t stand to have him be this flat, static, annoying, obnoxious fellow right up till the very end. Even his adoption of former orphanage girl Karla in the sequel wasn’t completely motivated by altruism, though he’s grown to love her like his own child. He’s finally shown brotherly love to Georgiya by holding her hand as they’re taken to the NKVD car, and in the next chapter, he’s going to ask to see her before the end and tell her, for the first and only time, that he loves her.
I had to do some rather gruesome, disturbing reading for this chapter. Even when you’ve read and written for so many years about subjects like the Shoah, GULAG, the Armenian Genocide, and the Great Terror, it doesn’t ever make it a ray of sunshine or pleasant to read about. But it’s important to have accuracy when you’re writing about real events and places.
I’d never read about the killing fields of Kurapaty (near Minsk) before, and I had to know exactly how it went down to realistically show how Inessa’s cousin Rustam (the husband of her adoptive sister Olga) was able to survive that mass grave. Note to nitpickers: Just because something rarely or infrequently happened doesn’t mean it was completely out of the realm of possibility or that there were no documented instances. It just means it didn’t happen often, not that it never happened. And it makes for a more interesting story.
It helped that this is the first half of ’37, before a fence was constructed around the killing field and thus making escape and survival even more difficult. Before he leaves Roman, he takes out the gag to give him dignity in death, and kisses him in farewell. Now it’s imperative that Inessa’s family escape the Soviet Union, as dangerous as it’s going to be.