Journey Through a Dark Forest: Lyuba and Ivan in the Age of Anxiety

Journey Through a Dark Forest: Lyuba and Ivan in the Age of Anxiety (1933–48):

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.

In Part I, Midway Life’s Journey, 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 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.

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In Part II, The Right Path Appears Not Anywhere, the Konevs’ close-knit family bond is torn asunder when Tatyana finally discovers the truth about her paternity on the eve of her 18th birthday. She believes Boris’s self-serving, selectively-reported version of events, and wants nothing further to do with Ivan. As soon as she graduates high school and becomes a Barnard student, she moves in with Boris, who now lives in Harlem and operates a jewelry store. In order to keep an eye on the situation and make sure Tatyana is safe, Nikolay moves into the third bedroom. But the truth about Boris eventually starts catching up with Tatyana, and Boris’s latest schemes threaten to lead to his umpteenth undoing.

Meanwhile, in the USSR, the Savvins, the Zyuganovs, the Godunov cousins, and several now-adult former orphanage girls are betrayed by the Revolution and sucked into the terrifying whirlwind of the Great Terror. Leonid and Georgiya are arrested for violating the infamous Article 58 in various ways, while Inessa is left a young widow with going on three children and fights against the clock to smuggle her immediate family into the safety of Poland and over to their old friends the Lebedevas in America.

In addition to her own children, Inessa has also been given her old friend Inna’s baby nephew Damir for wetnursing and safekeeping while his father arranges for Inna, the elderly Mrs. Brezhneva, and some of the orphanage children and employees to get out of Kyiv. Inna’s group ends up in Isfahan, Iran, the same place her old friends Alina, Ohanna, and Izabella have fled to with their remaining families.

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In Part III, This Wood, So Harsh, Dismal, and Wild, Darya and Oliivia’s year of studying abroad at a Parisian lycée is indefinitely extended when the Nazis invade and occupy France. Fedya and Osyenka are chomping at the bit for America to join the war so they can get into uniform to save them. When the war finally comes to America, Fedya, Vasya, Osyenka, and Leontiy enlist as soon as possible, and in Canada, Yuriy becomes an Army medic. But winning the war isn’t going to be a quick or easy proposition, and there’s no guarantee they’ll find Darya and Oliivia, particularly after word reaches their families that they were taken away by the Nazis in November 1942.

While many other young men have joined the Army and Navy, Patya and Rodya have joined the Marines, and fight in the Pacific instead of in Europe. Patya is a natural Marine, whereas Rodya is more scared in battle, and depends upon Patya to protect him. Rodya is desperate to prove himself as a brave, manly Marine who doesn’t need his best friend to watch his back all the time, and that moment finally, unexpectedly comes during the Battle of Saipan. But Rodya still isn’t satisfied with his Purple Heart and having protected Patya, and sneaks back into combat for the Battle of Tinian. Patya meanwhile is faced with the lifelong reality of the million-dollar wound which earned him his own Purple Heart.

As the young men in the Army and Marines are struggling to stay alive in each battle, Darya, Oliivia, and their new friends are struggling to survive as Nazi slaves. A seeming miracle happens when they’re transported to a Polish family’s farm taken over by the SS and chosen as indoor laborers, but all good things must come to an end, and they’re evacuated deep into Germany before being sent on a three-week death march to Mauthausen. Only the hope of being rescued and seeing her family again, and her determination to protect Oliivia, keeps Darya alive.

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In Part IV, The Good It Is Their Hap to Find, the Konevs and their friends struggle to come to terms with what they’ve survived and try to become somewhat normal again. Darya, Oliivia, and their friends feel like a species from another planet after they arrive in America, while the Zyuganovs leave the congestion of Manhattan for the spacious, slower-paced neighborhoods of Queens Village and Tottenville, Staten Island. And as the world settles down into the immediate postwar era, Darya, Katya, Yuriy, and Oliivia find love. But these happy new beginnings are threatened when Darya’s long-latent tuberculosis returns with a vengeance.

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