Thursday, November 14, 2013

The Goal and Intention of Lubachka, The Novel

Lubachka is not an attempt to write or rewrite a controversial period of history that has been recorded with great inaccuracy, sometimes as a result of intentional bias but more often because the memories of survivors are as convoluted as the emotional trauma and psychological struggle that accompanies such experience. Each survivor's experience is unique and powerful as a tool for comprehending how war impacts civilians and forever changes their lives. The collective history is told only through battles, and how the seats of power are shifted. That the weaponry and strategy continues to interest people, particularly those who have never served as soldiers, speaks volumes about the psyche. Americans, in particular, are inclined to focus on these details in order to distance themselves from the suffering of people like my mother. I lack any ability to connect intellectually with adults who tinker with toy soldiers like a sheltered child. It is cultural history, not military history, that, utilizing narratives such as Lubachka, can help us begin to understand humanity. Battle logistics are only significant in tracing the paths of those who were lost at war and those survived. The important story has been buried in the daily lives of people like my mother.

Through the lens of those who witnessed horrific atrocities comes profound and important insight into humanity, which must be considered alongside the triumphant accomplishments of humanity, such as great art and literature, both contemporary and contemporaneous.

As a former scholar (of literature not history) and as a journalist for more than two decades, I approach this project with the research skills I have developed. This is not, however, intended as a sweeping academic or investigative work. It is a layman's effort at contributing to the memory and shared experience of survivors like my mother, regardless of nationality, ethnicity or religion.  Any statistics I cite are official, and I intentionally avoid engaging in any debate over the “real” numbers that break down how many were killed or died based on ethnic or national profile.

My mother and her parents identify themselves as ethnic Russians, though they all were born in Belarus, so close to the Russian border that my grandmother walked to church in Russia to baptize my mother. There are many confusing details regarding when and why certain people were sent to specific camps, and my mother and her parents were often the minority ethnic population at a particular camp even when there were more facilities designated for Russians. It is significant to note that while Belorussians were often counted differently from Russians (largely because of the Partisan resistance movement of which my mother and her parents were targets), Ukrainians are generally lumped into the Russian category on official statistics. I am a quarter Ukrainian and a quarter Polish on my father’s side. That alone is reason enough for me to avoid any conversation or conflict stemming from national or ethnic pride. My mother is Russian Orthodox and any discussion of religion serves to bolster the cultural context of heinous crimes committed against people of many different faiths.

Lubachka is largely based on my mother’s early childhood memories, but it is written by me. My mother chose to not write this herself, nor did she commission me to write it.  She did, however, speak openly about an extremely traumatic period of her life. This is not a fictionalized account, nor is it written from my mother’s voice. I welcome critics for everything I publish, professional and personal, but I am not making any claims that are intended to set straight a record or undermine other people’s accounts. I welcome any information that might broaden my own understanding of the events surrounding my mother’s experience.

I’ve grown up in a world where “educated” people (those who have earned at least a bachelor’s degree from a college or university) have used the term Soviets after 1991 to describe people who live in (or hail from) countries bordering Afghanistan, China, (the former) Czechoslovakia, Finland, Hungary, Iran, Mongolia, North Korea, Norway, Poland, Romania and Turkey. My frustration is nothing compared with my mother’s. Imagine watching all your siblings die in infancy and surviving concentration and slave camps only to be met with ignorance in a free America where you are marginalized and ostracized by people who were brainwashed by McCarthyism.

This is intended as an explainer, not a disclaimer. I am not Lubachka, but of course I am psychologically and socially impacted by my mother’s life story. Every effort is made to present information without cultural bias, using historical documentation as a framework for the events and experiences she describes. This is a deeply emotional account and I strive to represent all information with integrity.


  1. Wow, Natasha. This is a fascinating project. I look forward to reading it.

  2. Thank you, Shoes15! Hope to find more comments from you.