My IWSG post is here.

Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-B10919 / Wisch / CC-BY-SA 3.0

Drancy was an internment camp in a northeastern Parisian suburb of the same name, in use through 20 August 1941–17 August 1944. It began life as La Cité de la Muette (The Silent City), a luxury high-rise, U-shaped apartment complex, among the first of its type in France.

Instead, it was taken over as police headquarters at the start of WWII, and then turned into a transit camp. An estimated 70,000 people passed through during its four years of operation.

Only 1,542 survivors were found when the Allies liberated it.

Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-B10920 / Wisch / CC-BY-SA 3.0

Over time, Drancy grew to include five sub-camps. Initially, it was run by French police, but the Germans took over on 3 July 1943. In spite of the change in command, French police continued to arrest people and bring them to Drancy.

The vast majority of detainees were Jewish, but there was a very small percentage of political prisoners. Most of the latter were in the French Resistance.

Drancy was only designed to hold 700 people, but it housed 7,000 at its height. Many survivors testified to the brutality of the French guards, and how children were immediately separated from their families.

Some Drancy prisoners were killed in retaliation for French attacks on the occupying Germans.

Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-B10917 / CC-BY-SA 3.0

Sixty-eight of the seventy-nine deportations of French Jews (with a small minority of political prisoners mixed in) set out from Drancy, starting 27 March 1942. All but six went to Auschwitz. The other destinations were Majdanek, Sobibór, Kaunas, Tallinn, and Buchenwald.

Of the 73,853 known deportees, 46,802 were gassed upon arrival. Only 913 women and 1,647 men were known to survive by 1945.

Copyright Reinhardhauke

Famous internees included artist and writer Max Jacob (who died in Drancy), Dutch painter Max van Dam, writer Tristan Bernard, choreographer René Blum, and German artist Charlotte Salomon.

After the war, survivors filed charges against fifteen of the French gendarmes who ran Drancy. Ten were put on trial, three of whom fled before proceedings began. The other seven insisted they were just following orders, in spite of the numerous testimonies about their brutality.

All ten were found guilty, though the court ruled they’d been rehabilitated by “acts of active, effective, and sustained participation in Resistance against the enemy.” Two of them were sentenced to two years of prison and five years of national indignity. After one year, they were pardoned.

Copyright Ykmyks

In 1976, sculptor Shelomo Selinger (now 89 years old), a Polish-born Shoah survivor, unveiled a three-part rose granite memorial which was two years in the making. There’s also an authentic railcar on permanent display.

Disgustingly, on 20 January 2005, anti-Semites set some of the railcars on fire and left a tract with an swastika, signed “Bin Laden.” On 11 April 2009, a swastika was painted on the remaining railcar.



My characters Darya Koneva and Oliivia Kalvik are taken to Drancy after participating in an anti-Nazi protest in Paris in October 1942. They’re among the very small minority of non-Jewish political prisoners.

During their three weeks in Drancy, Darya and Oliivia sleep on wet straw and a hard wooden mattress, with only a thin blanket, and eat lousy rations. Drancy makes Darya long for her early years in a Lower East Side tenement.

As soon as they get the opportunity, they volunteer for transport to the mythical Pitchipoi they keep hearing about. On 4 November, their journey to Hell begins, and they discover Pitchipoi doesn’t exist. Auschwitz is referred to as not-Pitchipoi, Planet Pitchipoi, and Pitchipoi 99% of the time, both in the text and Darya and Oliivia’s speech.

When Darya’s future husband Andrey asks about this, she says it’s her way of dealing with that ugliness and evil. If she doesn’t use the real name, she won’t be confronted by cruel reality.

What’s Up Wednesday

First off, since last week I took part in the Two Truths and a Lie blogfest Jamie Ayres held to celebrate the release of her second book, 18 Truths, it’s time to reveal my lie.

I’m allergic to cockroaches. This is actually true, though most people thought it was a made-up allergy. It’s more common than one might think, though I didn’t know about it till I was tested for environmental allergies a few years ago. Since it often develops among poor and urban children, I suspect I got it when I lived in Arbor Hill (Albany’s ghetto) as a toddler.

My estimated due date was one day after a tragic event in the history of my favourite band (The Who). Yup. I was supposed to be born 4 December 1979, though I had other ideas and showed up two weeks late. On the night of 3 December, 11 young people were crushed to death, and 23 more were injured, at the Riverfront Coliseum in Cincinnati, due to the risky practice of festival seating. They falsely believed the concert was starting, and rushed the closed doors. When the news was broken to the band after the show, Roger burst into tears.

I know how to play the dulcian, a late Medieval/early Renaissance instrument that’s like a more melancholy bassoon. This is the lie, though I’d love to learn if I can find an affordable dulcian, either original or reproduction. I love Medieval music and the haunting sounds of the instruments. One of my characters, Eulalia Qiana Laurel (born 1987, one of Cinnimin’s grandkids), does play the dulcian and vielle, a long, five-stringed, violin-like instrument.

WUW Winter

What’s Up Wednesday is a weekly hop/meme with four simple headings. Anyone can write a post and add the link to Jaime’s blog.

What I’m Reading

I started David Laskin’s The Family: Three Journeys into the Heart of the Twentieth Century, but I’m just not feeling it as much as I’d hoped. It reads more like a history textbook instead of a vibrant family memoir. “And then this happened. And then this person did that.” There are fascinating stories about these three branches of his family (including Ida Rosenthal, founder of Maidenform), but it’s just not coming to life for me.

What I’m Writing

I’m up to about 587,600 words in my WIP and just starting Chapter 76, “Ups and Downs of Rehabilitation,” which focuses on 12-year-old Violetta and her 5-year-old sister Flora in early 1943. Flora recovered from paralytic polio quicker than her sister, but she still uses crutches and a leather caliper around her lower right leg at school and in public. She’ll regain more mobility and confidence in the ballet troupe for young polio survivors. Violetta meanwhile is terrified to be completely weaned off her iron lung, which she insists on sleeping in and spending at least an hour a day in. The flesh is willing to walk, but the spirit is unable.

Chapter 75, “The Worst That Could Happen,” was set primarily in Drancy and Oswiecim, as Darya and Oliivia get in a lot more trouble than they bargained for when they attend an anti-Nazi protest. Even though the Shoah is one of my areas of historical expertise, I still had to do some research for this chapter. There’s a silver lining (for the moment) at chapter’s end, as the girls get a cake sorting job in Kanada, out of the brutal Polish winter, and have made friends with two other young political prisoners, Halina and Maja. They don’t yet realise their new friends are from the Zyuganov family, whom they’re well acquainted with.

What Inspires Me

I was in the produce section of Hannaford on Friday when a nearby African-American worker told me he liked the zippers on the bottoms of my jeans. He thought they were really convenient for changing between shoes, and liked their original look. Afterwards, I thought about what an awesome time in history I live in, when an African-American man can speak to a white woman and not have to fear turning up like Emmett Till. My whole life, particularly since I’ve lived most of my life in a city that’s about half African-American, it’s just been normal to me to be friendly with people of other races.

I still have the September 1994 special 50th anniversary issue of Seventeen magazine, and in the front, they reprinted a bunch of letters to the editor from over the decades. One of the Fifties letters says something like, “If God didn’t want us to mix, he wouldn’t have put us all on the same planet.”

Macintosh also just turned 30! It’s hard to believe so much time has passed already, and that I’ve been there from the beginning. I’m so thankful for having a computer-savvy father who bought us a computer even when we didn’t have a lot of money. It taught me what was really important, and gave me a big advantage for schoolwork, building brainpower, learning to type ahead of just about all of my classmates, a creative outlet, and computer savvy.

I’ve been with Mac since OS 1.0, and was using it years before most other people had computers. I’ll be with the Mac for life, through whatever future changes it goes through.

What Else I’m Up To

I made some awesome chocolate chip peanut butter cake and vegan cornbread on Sunday. Next on my adventures in learning new recipes, I’m going to make seitan with the vital wheat gluten I got recently. You’ll never catch me as one of those gluten-free fakers like my ex-roommate. If I had Celiac or a wheat allergy, I’d be pissed at how all these gluten-free fakers cause legit issues to be taken less seriously. I hate fad diets.



While I’m still eating limited dairy, I decided to try sheep cheese. It’s pretty good, soft like goat cheese, and tastes great with honey.

A Xenial Welcome (Xenon Medium)

My Sweet Saturday Samples post is here. I wanted my X post to lead today!

(Quick note: This is one of the fonts I downloaded, not a system default. It may not show up properly for everyone.)

Font:  Xenon Medium

Chapter:  “A Xenial Welcome”

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

Written:  4-15 April 2013

File format:  Word 2004

Computer written on:  2008 15-inch MacBook Pro

This is the 35th chapter of my current WIP, my third Russian/North American historical novel. In this chapter, four of the Soviet characters arrive safely in New York, and some of the other Soviet characters finally reach Isfahan, Persia, and reunite. A very xenial (hospitable) welcome is waiting for them in both places. After the risky escapes all three of these groups have gone through, it’s nice to finally relax and settle into life in a safe place. To date, this is the book’s longest chapter, at over 13,000 words.

Some highlights:

“Would you like a ride?  Passengers come along every few minutes, but it doesn’t seem right to keep driving past people with so much baggage, and a woman who’s approaching a blessèd event.”

Rustam starts hyperventilating and rolls down his window.  Ever since he escaped Kurapaty, being in small spaces has brought on panic attacks and vivid flashbacks.

“Anyone would have a mental breakdown if he’d escaped from a mass grave,” Rustam says as he flops into the nearest chair. “That night of terror will be with me as long as I live.  Don’t even ask me to describe it again.  It was enough I had to tell my family, Polish embassy people, and the officials who greeted us here.  All those bodies, pressing on all sides, that gag on my mouth, barely any air—”

Katrin pours cranberry juice, brandy, ice, raspberry syrup, and rose water into a penguin-shaped cocktail-shaker, then pours more of the same mixture into a shaker shaped like an aeroplane.  Her guests watch in continued amazement as she prepares drinks.

“What’s a hotdog?” Fyodor asks. “I thought only Asians and some Africans ate dogs.”

“Yes, he’s a Great Dane,” Oliivia nods. “We wanted a puppy, but our mother said it’s better to give a home to an older abandoned dog.  Puppies find new owners quickly, but older dogs in the pound are usually ignored.”

Velira runs to a window of the abandoned old summer house Ínna and Mrs. Brézhneva have claimed in the center of Isfahan.  She smiles down at the pheasants having a dirt bath in the garden of the courtyard, several feet away from the long reflecting pool.  It’s been a long time since she’s been able to just stand and watch animals, without being rushed along, or kept away from most flora and fauna at sea.

Mrs. Brézhneva stiffens at the loud laughter coming from the car.  She doesn’t even need to be told it’s directed at her.

“Why am I not surprised to see you still look like an ape with a bad haircut, pointy ears, and an unflattering hat after all these years?  It’s me, Alína Pétropashvili, and those are the Nahigians, Ohanna Zouranjian, and Ohanna’s daughter Siranoush.” Alína opens the back door and steps out. “Don’t you recognize me as an adult?”

At seven o’clock, the guests arrive at Firuza and Vahid’s house three minutes away from the new orphanage.  Velira, Siranoush, and Manzura’s eyes light up at the sight of all the food arranged around the table—mint tea, orange sharbat, cheese and walnut spread, stuffed grape leaves, cucumber and eggplant salad, noodle and vegetable soup with chickpeas, pistachio-stuffed lamb, saffron rice with dates, orange peel, and apricots, apple khoresh, honey almond brittle, nan-e dushabi with pomegranate jam, and baklava.

Velira perches on Ínna’s lap and obediently drinks the sharbat and eats the soup, khoresh, and plain dates Firuza sets before her.  After she’s finished eating, Firuza goes into the kitchen for a small bowl of ice-cream liberally flavored with saffron, pomegranate syrup, rose water, and watermelon juice.  Velira eagerly wolfs it down and then curls up in her aunt’s lap, where she quickly falls asleep.

Mrs. Brézhneva gives one of her trademark befuddled looks. “Is xenial a Georgian word?  Isn’t there a Russian equivalent?”

“This is one old dog you’ll never teach new tricks to.  At least I’m nearing retirement and won’t need to worry about finding a new job in this new country or doing much interaction with the locals.  I’m here only for political and personal safety, not to try to rebuild my life at almost seventy years old.”

[After Katrin orders Anastasiya to finally move out] “Thank God,” Mr. Rhodes says. “I won’t have to put up with her on vacation.  This’ll be the best vacation I’ve had in years.”

“You can sure say that again,” Mrs. Samson nods. “Good riddance.”

[Title page of a comic book/graphic novel, and the close of the chapter] One Lived to Tell the Tale, written and illustrated by Rustam Dmítriyevich Zyuganov

In memory of my dear friend, neighbor, and cousin-in-law Román Vasilovich Safronov and all the other innocents who were murdered in Kurapaty on the night of 11 April 1937, and for my beautiful, intelligent, generous wife Ólga Leonídovna Kérenskaya and our firstborn, Liliána Rustamovna Zyuganova, whom I survived for.

“Hatred does not cease by hatred, but only by love; this is the eternal rule.”—Buddha.