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Pamela Atherstone's "...Like
Footprints in the Wind: A Generation Lost," is certainly a Historical novel in
every sense of the word. I do believe though, that it brings much more to the
table than is normally associated with that particular genre. You have a
sweeping tale of family and tribulations and love and faith. You have a place
and time that evokes distance from modern life. All of this is the normal thing
for such a work but somehow the author brings it to us in a way that makes us
able to feel the world inhabited by the Jahnle family and those around them, as
if it were actually us, or loved ones of our own. The story comes alive fully
and enables us to live it along with the characters. This is rare in Historical
undertakings. And welcome.
As the book opens Johannes
Jahnle is a farmer about to harvest his crops. The yield looks promising and he
is a contented man. The Russian world he lives in is his as much as anyone’s. He
loves his wife and children and they are happy in their lives. Simply because
they are of German descent though, they are in trouble. I had never heard of the
Purge of the Kulaks prior to the reading of this fine novel. Based on real
stories, the tale that unfolds is an astonishing, gut wrenching one. The family
is torn from their land and all they know by Russian soldiers. They are forced
to endure a harrowing journey that leads them to the isolating deprivation that
is the labor camps on the coast of the White Sea, in Siberia. Getting there is a
fraught existence. The world they arrive into ends up being an ice brick
scratched out of some devil's frozen hell. Miss Atherstone carves these things
to life in such a way as to make them as compellingly real as any moment that
might have been truly experienced by the reader, employing the kind of writing
that makes great fiction, great story telling.
The author does not rely on
flowery prose to evoke her worlds. Clean hard lines are used to draw the
pictures between the covers of "…Like Footprints In The Wind." This is as it
should be. The story, at times, is brutal. The family faces trials that seem and
probably were designed to tear them down to nothing. Sorrows within are immense.
There is great cruelty, deprivation, and even death. If the words used were not
cut out of stone, a false prettiness might have covered things, which would have
only taken away from what is being laid down here.
Johannes Jahnle is a good man.
He is wise and blessed with an inner strength his family would have been hard
pressed to survive without. There is that kind of strength in his wife,
Katerina, as well. It was lifting to find a woman protagonist who did not
crumble and fade under enormous pressures. I confess though that I think my
favorite of the characters may be the Jahnle's daughter, Anya. She is a spirit
of high order and love becomes her. The family is bolstered by their faith. It
is the thing, I think, that really brings them through. It is tested and finally
clung to. That, as well, is refreshing.
Really I find this book an
important work; it brings forth an historical happening, a tragic piece of
history the world ought to know better. Miss Atherstone is a master story
teller. The goodness that flows through the horror wrought is a dynamic any age
needs more of. The Jahnle's are a people I would love to know. Their faith is a
special thing. It all might have been less in the hands of someone not as
capable as Pamela Atherstone. She should find great success with this saga.
Trust me when I say, you will gain knowledge and feel things deeply simply by
opening the pages and falling into them.
Added note: This book is the Winner of the
2013 Best Fiction Award for Rebecca's Reads. Permission to reprint reviews was
granted by Rebecca's Reads as part of the contest. This book is also currently
a finalist in two categories in the Reader's Favorite Book
Reviews and Awards Contest.
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