With gratitude to Hashem, I announce the long-overdue release of my third Russian historical, Journey Through a Dark Forest: Lyuba and Ivan in the Age of Anxiety. I planned and plotted it in 2001, wrote the first draft from 5 November 2012–13 March 2015, and edited, revised, and polished it from September 2015–September 2018.
Because this book ended up sprawling so much, with a lot more important characters and storylines than I’d originally envisioned, the first draft ended up 891K. My conservative initial guesstimate going in was only 500K, but the further I got into it, the more it sprawled and demanded to be the longest book I’ve written to date. I got the second draft down to 877K, and the final draft to 861K.
I thought so long and hard about how to handle its length. Chopping out over a thousand pages was always completely out of the question, since it was deliberately planned and written as a saga, with an ensemble cast, with multiple storylines, spanning fifteen and a half years. It wouldn’t be nearly the same story anymore if I removed, e.g., the Soviet characters who escape to Iran and the U.S., Inessa and Vitya’s second chance love story, or Patya and Rodya’s service in the Marines.
I considered putting it out as the one massive volume; two volumes; two volumes plus a master version; four volumes; and four volumes plus a master version. Ultimately, I decided to release it as one book in four volumes. Many great novels of yore were originally released in multiple volumes. I don’t consider Dark Forest to suddenly have become four books. It’s still one supersized book that just happens to need four volumes.
Though I needed to make four different covers, and will need to pay for four ISBNs when it comes time for print (through a legit third-party dealer, NOT price-gouging monopoly Bowker), the length is now much more manageable and realistic. Part I is 146K; Part II is 267K; Part III is 215K; and Part IV plus the Epilogue are 233K.
I had two last-minute changes I’m glad I caught in time. One involved moving the text on the first cover, so it’d match the other three in showcasing the dark forest. The other was discovering St. Paul’s Regions Hospital was called Ancker in 1948.
Today I’m featuring the synopsis of Part I. The other three will follow on succeeding days this week. Part I spans 6 January 1933–23 January 1935.
While the whole world is in the throes of one of the most concentrated periods of Sturm und Drang in recent memory, the Konevs and their friends far and wide struggle to survive and make their way back to some semblance of a peaceful, ordinary world.
Lyuba and Ivan are snowed in at their barn on Russian Christmas Eve and have a passionate encounter which creates a surprise seventh baby. Lyuba is ecstatic to be pregnant again, in spite of her history of difficult pregnancies and deliveries, but her sense of serenity and joy is soon destroyed when she suffers a near-miscarriage. She’s forced into complete bed rest and using a wheelchair in order to carry her riskiest pregnancy yet to term.
Meanwhile, Nadezhda is finally released from Siberia after her 12-year sentence runs out, and makes her way to America with Vsevolod Smirnov, the older son of the family who rescued Lyolya all those years ago. America is a dream come true for both of them, but after they come to New York from San Francisco, they’re each confronted by romantic quandaries. Nadezhda’s emotional reunion with Pavel ends in heartbreak when she sees the phony wedding ring he bought, and Vsevolod falls in love with Nadezhda’s spinster cousin Vera. Each couple needs some time to navigate the path from friends to lovers, all while hoping for a happy ever after.
And in the middle of it all, Lyuba and Ivan’s firstborn Tatyana has begun growing up and becoming a young woman. Their sweet little girl Tanyechka is now a modern American teenager who goes by Tanya. Though her increasingly apparent young womanhood disconcerts her parents, they know she can’t stay their innocent little girl forever. Everything must come to an end eventually. And sometimes, one ending starts another beginning.
I chose 11 December as my release date not only because it’s Lyuba’s birthday, but because today would’ve been the 100th birthday of my favourite writer, Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn. So much of who I am as a writer, esp. in regards to how I write my Russian historicals, I owe to him. He’s always been so much more than just a favourite writer, but one of my heroes.
One of the greatest regrets of my life is never writing him a letter in all the years our lifetimes overlapped, to tell him how very, very, very much he means to me. I forever stand in awe of his courage, faith, elephantine memory, willingness to lay down his life for the sake of getting his writing out to the world.
Dedicating my first Russian historical to his memory was the least I could do in gratitude.
May your beautiful memory be an eternal blessing, Aleksandr Isayevich, and may your incredible soul rest in peace. Happy 100th birthday, wherever your soul may reside now.