Happy release day to Journey Through a Dark Forest, and happy 100th birthday to Aleksandr Isayevich!

                          

                          

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.

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Top Ten Tuesday—Books with sensory reading memories

Top Ten Tuesday, formerly hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, is now hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl. This week’s topic is Books with Sensory Reading Memories (i.e., linked to very specific memories).

1. The Glass Bead Game, Hermann Hesse. I was reading this when my family left NY in August ’96, and it went into storage at my maternal grandparents’ house with almost everything else we owned. When I picked it back up in 2003 or 2004, I kept the bookmark in the place it’d been all those years ago, as a reminder of that depressing time.

Interestingly, that bookmark is one I left in a library book about Tad Lincoln, and got back when I checked the book out of the library again at thirteen. I knew that was my bookmark, and no one had taken it in all those years!

2. The Tao Te Ching, Lao-Tzu (Gia-Fu Feng and Jane English translation). This was one of the few things I had during my junior year of high school, 1996–97, while we lived with my paternal grandparents. My relationship with that book of ancient Chinese wisdom was forged in fire. It got me through a lot of tough times. Just smelling the pages takes me back to that dark period.

3. Anything by Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn, my favourite writer and one of my heroes. Each and every book, story collection, play, or prose poem takes me back to the time I first read it.

4. The Play of God, Devi Vanimali. I read this beautiful book about Lord Krishna in summer 2002, while my parents and little brother were at Cape Cod. I was sick to death of that place, and decided to stay home. It was so hot, I had to go into my parents’ room for the AC unit at night. We didn’t have central AC.

5. The Lives of John Lennon, Albert Goldman. This book is absolute garbage, but I have so many memories of being a naïve 14-year-old who believed everything she read, and eating this crap up every time I went to a library or bookstore, until I finally checked it out in late ’94 to finish reading it at my own leisure.

6. Upon the Head of the Goat, Aranka Siegal. Not only was this the book that started my Magyarphilia, but it was one of the books I read that spring of ’95 that awakened my Jewish soul. When Piri and Iboya are being threatened by anti-Semitic bullies, I felt afraid and threatened myself.

7. Pretty much any book I read during the 11 months I couldn’t walk, from August 2003–July 2004. How could one not remember being so immobile and helpless?

8. Related to #1, pretty much everything by Hermann Hesse. I have so many memories of the first time I read each of his books, starting with Demian at age 14–15. He was the first real adult author I read, and became my next-fave writer.

9. Beatlesongs, William Dowlding. My receipt from June ’94 is still in it. That was a very happy trip to Borders. A TV in another room upstairs was playing Help!

10. Isabella: From Auschwitz to Freedom, by Isabella Leitner (originally published in two volumes, Fragments of Isabella and Saving the Fragments). Hands-down the most haunting, memorable book I’ve ever read. It was only upon rereading it as an adult that I realised how sparse the supporting details and backstory are. It’s driven by emotions, this story of four (later, sadly, three) sisters who survived for one another, because of one another.

I’ve since listened to, watched, and read a number of interviews with Isabella and her surviving siblings (now all deceased). They filled in so many blanks I was curious about, and often left me wondering why some pretty important details were omitted, like the fact that there were twin boys who died at eight months, not just five sisters and a token brother.

Top Ten Tuesday—Fave Book Quotes

Top Ten Tuesday, formerly hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, is now hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl. This week’s topic is favourite book quotes.

1. Just about anything from Monsieur l’Abbé T. in Thérèse Philosophe. This radical priest is on fire every time he opens his mouth! Lines like:

“Everyone agrees that God knows what will occur throughout eternity. But, they say, even before he knows what the results of our actions will be, he has foreseen that we will betray his grace and commit these same acts. Thus, with this foreknowledge, God, in creating us, knew in advance that we would be eternally damned and eternally miserable.”

2. Pistorius in Hermann Hesse’s Demian. “Don’t talk shit, man! One doesn’t hear of Abraxas by accident!”

3. “Pablo would be waiting for me, and Mozart too.” (Hermann Hesse’s Steppenwolf.)

4. “(I still have that suitcase, and even now when I chance to come upon it, I run my fingers around the hole torn in it. It is a wound which cannot heal as wounds heal on bodies or on hearts. Things have longer memories than people.)”—Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn (may his memory be for a blessing), Volume II of The GULAG Archipelago.

5. “Rosy-fingered Eos, mentioned so often in Homer and called Aurora by the Romans, caressed, too, with those fingers the first early morning of the Archipelago.”—Ibid.

6. “To taste the sea all one needs is one gulp.”—Ibid.

7. “Mama, I make this vow to you:  I will teach my sons to love life, respect man, and hate only one thing—WAR.”—Isabella Leitner, Fragments of Isabella.

8. “….You can rarely decide for another that he or she should not do this or that. How can anyone forbid you to love when Christ said that there is nothing higher than love? And he made no exceptions, for love of any kind whatsoever.”—Aleksandr Isayevich, November 1916.

9. “The voice lost in a faraway village church had found me again and filled the whole room. I spoke loudly and incessantly like the peasants and then like the city folk, as fast as I could, enraptured by the sounds that were heavy with meaning, as wet snow is heavy with water, convincing myself again and again and again that speech was now mine and that it did not intend to escape through the door which opened onto the balcony.”—The Painted Bird, Jerzy Kosinski.

10. Last but not least, my love Dante:

Midway life’s journey I was made aware
That I had strayed into a dark forest,
And the right path appeared not anywhere.
Ah, tongue cannot describe how it oppressed,
This wood, so harsh, dismal, and wild, that fear
At thought of it strikes now into my breast.
So bitter it is, death is scarce bitterer.
But, for the good it was my hap to find,
I speak of the other things that I saw there.
I cannot remember well in my mind
How I came thither, so was I immersed
In sleep, when the true way I left behind.

Kolyma vs. Archipelago

(This formed the long middle section of my old Angelfire review of Kolyma Tales. It examines in-depth the differences between Varlam Tikhonovich Shalamov and Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn’s depictions of GULAG.)

Shalámov’s wood-cutting partner Garkunov is murdered for his good white sweater in a game of cards, and his only reaction is “Oh well, guess I’ll have to get a new wood-cutting partner.” Compared to how A.I. was very upset when Borís Gammerov and Zhora Ingal, his friends whom he arrived at his first camp with, died soon after their arrival. He even wanted to mark their graves with some of the poetry they had composed during their too-short lifetimes instead of just moving on to find new friends or work partners.

There’s a cat wandering about the hospital in One Day; all the animals in Shalámov’s Hell are eventually killed for their meat and fur. They don’t care that the dog or cat was being friendly with them moments before; they murder these poor defenceless creatures to have meat and warm mittens.

Some things are questionable, though. Shalámov tries to prove, in story after story, that the Medical Section were guardian angels, and were truly looking out for these unfortunates. Granted, his life was saved twice by the Medical Section, but it’s well-known that a lot of camp doctors and medical personnel were first-rate [scumbags] who sent plenty of people to their deaths, through signing death sentences or sending them back out to work in the cold while deathly ill. Just because he had two great life-saving experiences doesn’t mean the majority of camp doctors were these wonderfully beneficent people. Evidence shows they weren’t.

Very questionable is the claim that most women were prostitutes. Women in Kolyma were rare, and you’re telling me that of that small minority, the majority were hookers? Yes, prostitution was declared a crime, and women who were caught were sent to prison and camps, but that doesn’t mean the majority of zechki were hookers! The great majority of the prisoner were “politicals,” convicted under the infamous Article 58, not career criminals or thieves.

It’s true that when women arrived, the trusties looked them over and propositioned their favourites. If the woman knew what was good for her, she agreed to it for better living conditions and treatment. But not all women decided to sleep with the trusties. They weren’t forced to do anything. I have no doubt that a lot of the real criminals did have mistresses, but Shalámov claims they were prostitutes, and were often traded off to new criminal owners. He claims that a criminal could sleep with any woman, but a female criminal (of which there weren’t very many) would be shunned if she slept with a non-criminal.

There were a lot of camp romances and even “camp spouses,” but that was voluntary. The criminals were complete [scumbags] and very sadistic, but I don’t think they treated women the way Shalámov describes. Since women were so rare in Kolyma, they were usually raped, so I don’t doubt his assertion that rapes and gang-rapes were common. It was in Kolyma, in fact, that the term “streetcar” to describe gang-rape originated.

It’s probably true that most of the career criminals wanted their sons to follow in their footsteps, but is it really true that they wanted their daughters to be prostitutes, and if they wouldn’t be, they shunned or beat them? In Archipelago, A.I. barely mentions homosexual activity. Some of the thieves did keep young boys for the purposes of pederasty, but I doubt it was that widespread as Shalámov claims, nor that the thieves also would rape little girls, sometimes as young as three.

Lesbianism also arose among the zechki, when they were in a female-only camp and were very lonely and hungry for love. That’s about the only times homosexuality gets mentioned there, and even then not much space is devoted to mentioning these occasional instances. Shalámov claims most of the criminals were gay, and that they went by girly nicknames without shame and had feminine voices to boot.

In his long chapter on the thieves, A.I. never even mentions what Shalámov claims was widespread, that the criminals had sex with one another and gave everyone venereal diseases. There were some camps with many cases of venereal diseases, but that doesn’t mean every single camp was that way. I have no doubt that he did experience this, but you can’t honestly take some isolated incidents in certain camps and then claim it was like that all over the Kolyma! Oh yeah, and if these guys were such flaming fruits, then why were they “married” to women and enjoying such healthy sex lives with them!?

Top Ten Tuesday—Most-Owned Authors

Top 10 Tuesday

Top 10 Tuesday is a weekly feature of The Broke and the Bookish. A full list of instructions and future themes can be found here. This week’s theme is Ten Authors I Own The Most Books From. I’m going to do my list as a photo montage, since I love photography.

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As much as I love the late Mr. Uris’s historicals. I have to be honest and admit he wasn’t the world’s greatest writer. He was an awesome storyteller and did amazing historical research, but subtlety wasn’t exactly his strong suit. I see him as an average to slightly above average writer who had a very good editor. Even in spite of his editor, though, he still needed to step away from the exclamation point key and make his heroes more realistic instead of so good-looking, very tall, and larger than life.

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Hermann Hesse is my next-fave writer. I’ve read all his novels and some other prose, though I don’t own all of his books yet. Missing from my shelf are Knulp and The Journey to the East, and his collections of stories and essays.

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Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn, of blessèd memory, has been my favouritest writer since I was barely sixteen. I positively devour his books, and am still waiting for widely-available English translations of his final novels, March 1917 and April 1917, the last two volumes in his massive Red Wheel saga. (Shameless self-promotion: I won the new, unexpurgated translation of The First Circle for writing the winning short story for a contest by the blog YA Stands.)

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I found these in the free bin at one of my local libraries, and thought they’d be great potential resources for researching the Marine chapters of my WIP.

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There are a couple of authors represented several times on this section of the shelf, and if you’re wondering, yes, I have a lot more Shoah memoirs and novels on other shelves. With all due respect to Ruth Minsky Sender, however, I just didn’t find her memoirs as compelling or interesting as most of the other Shoah memoirs I’ve read.

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Anton Pavlovich Chekhov is my third-fave writer, and Ivan Sergeyevich Turgenev is my fourth-fave writer. The old green book is a 1944 printing of Kathleen Winsor’s Forever Amber, with the text printed on two columns on thin pages. I assume it was because of wartime paper shortages.

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I love Bertolt Brecht. I even did my big literature paper in my twelfth grade English AP class on him. This shelf also contains one of the biggest steals I ever got, Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s awesome Confessions, which I got for only fifty cents at a library book sale. Someone there joked I should have to pay more since it’s such an intellectual book.

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I’m currently reading The Winds of War, after having my reading of it interrupted very prematurely in the wake of my car accident eleven years ago. I got it for a buck at Mystery Train Records in Amherst, Massachusetts. This is the kind of historical I’m used to reading, and which I base my own writing on—ensemble casts, third-person omniscient, more about the journey through dramatic historical events instead of fast-paced and plot-centric, hundreds upon hundreds of pages. May the 99-year-old Mr. Wouk live and be well!

I’ve also got some repeat authors in storage by my parents’ house, like Ann M. Martin and Laura Ingalls Wilder.