I read Sasha & Olga in one sitting and am stunned. I thought the book moving and compelling. Some of the clashes you had with your parents had me in tears. The image of you running crying through the Adelaide night with only one shoe will stay with me forever.
The book was like a tragic love story wrapped in a history of twentieth century Europe; a story about people exhausted by war and deprivation, struggling to make sense of an environment that is cruel and chaotic with only slight hope of escape or redemption. A Europe where totalitarian rivals, fascism and communism feed off each other to the detriment of nearly everyone and that included both Sasha Olga and of course, you.
Having survived the most vicious part of the twentieth century, you then had to adapt to a totally different way of life as “New Australians”. I imagined Olga with tear stained eyes staring into the Adelaide suburbs missing close family and friends. I cannot imagine a bleaker outlook. There was Sasha (who had trained to be a mathematician)) having to start again as an unskilled worker. To an intelligent European it must have been hell on wheels. It appears that neither parent could offer solace to each other. Then there you were one of the foreign girls at school and the eldest daughter whose mother was seriously ill. To call the situation difficult does not come close to covering it. Your description of your formative years was as harrowing as anything I’ve read. I had to stop reading to try and take in the despair you must have felt daily.
The narrative moved back and forward from Australia to Europe. Each journey seemed to presage tiny steps toward a better future. I would begin to see family members acquire another dimension. There were reasons for people’s entrenched positions even if some of them were not rational. Through your courageous persistence the reader was aware things were beginning to change.
I liked the spirit of the writing. When I mentioned a “love story”. I was not speaking about romantic love but more the love between family members that emerged as the story continued. Putting the stones outside your Mother’s window are more important to me than Ayer’s Rock. (the genius of pure love).
You tell the story magnanimously. What I mean is that all the characters (family and friends) are presented in an evenhanded manner, irrespective of how his or her behaviour impacted on your life. Even when describing thoughtless cruelty, or selfless generosity, the reader is made aware that there are reasons to explain why your parents or siblings behave as they do. Your recollections are vivid and lack even the slightest hint of self-pity. Your family and friends emerge as being very human despite some of their behaviours. I read it as an unfolding of what could have been a tragedy but became a poignant humane tale of a healing family. Piece by piece the foundation of a new family dynamic was put in place. Some of the necessary confrontations took exceptional courage on your part and I admire you for it.
What makes it compelling is the way in which you allow each person to be seen as a multi dimensional character. The way Sasha began as an inflexible tyrant and ended up being slowly transformed, by you mainly, into a loving loyal father. Olga was a heroic single mother who had her life shattered by war and oppression who loved her children but found her reality just too painful. The way you described your relationship with Val was with understanding not blame or bitterness. The compassion and the patience you showed Alex was typical of you
I enjoyed the process of meeting the European relations, which gave added texture to the historical as well as the personal side of the story. There are cavalcades of different characters that are all connected with the family. Leonie, the Bruce family, Lena, Greg ,Vlada, Leonty. Shika and Hana all play a part in the rebuilding of a remarkable family. I particularly liked the quotes from Mandelshtam, Akhmatova and others that added to the overall background to your story. (If anyone understood the suffering under totalitarianism it would be Anna Akhmatova and Osip Mandelshtam.
This is becoming a jumbled mess. What I am saying is I loved the book. When it comes down to it the book is about you Eva and your wonderful take on life. Thank you for writing it.