Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors, where participants share 8 sentences from a book or WIP. I’m moving to my current WIP, my third Russian/North American historical novel. Journey Through a Dark Forest: Lyuba and Ivan in the Age of Anxiety is set from January 1933-September 1948, and spans three continents. My guesstimated final length is 450,000-500,000 words, making it the longest of the three books so far. Hey, since when was a Russian novel expected to be short?
This is from Chapter 23, “Betrayed by the Revolution,” set in the thick of a series of chapters focusing on the characters who remained in the Soviet Union instead of immigrating to the U.S. or Canada. Former orphanage girl Inessa has just had her husband Roman and cousin Rustam taken away by the NKVD, and now they arrive at their intended final destination.
Researching this scene took a lot out of me. Just because I frequently write about dark periods of history doesn’t mean it’s emotionally easy for me. I had to let one of these fellows defy the odds and survive, an occurrence the townspeople only witnessed a handful of times.
Rustam and Roman are ordered out of the Black Maríya when it finally comes to a stop in a forest on the outskirts of Minsk. In the dark, after their eyes adjust, they can make out a sea of trees on the surrounding hills, and many white flowers. Both quickly recognize this as Kurapaty, the forest they’ve frequently had school and family picnics and hikes in. In the dark, Roman almost falls into a hole, and Rustam grabs his arm and pulls him back to his feet.
“Do you think those are our graves?” Roman whispers in terror.
“I doubt they brought us here for anything else,” Rustam whispers back.
The condemned are lined up in front of the deep ditches, and the officers commence putting a gag in each one’s mouth and tying a rag around the gag. Rustam instinctively breathes through his nose, though Roman is already hyperventilating.