This feminist, literature-as-therapy memoir offers a disturbing and timely commentary on the fate of women in war. What if Jerzy Kosinski or Roman Polanski had experienced WW II as young girls? Nesaule, whose experience parallels theirs in some ways, speaks with a distinctly feminist voice in her account of her own emotionally scarring struggle to survive. Born in rural Latvia to a minister and his charming, intelligent wife, seven-year-old Nesaule leaves behind the innocence, sunshine, and beauty of childhood when she and her family flee the Soviet advance. After a miserable period in a German camp, they encounter the Soviets' much-feared Mongolian soldiers. An eyewitness to rape, plunder, murder, and suicide—all described in blunt and poignant detail- -Nesaule quickly loses faith in God. Periods of starvation also lead her to lose faith in herself, ashamed of ``not being worth feeding.'' The transforming moment comes when Nesaule's mother urges her daughters to the front of a crowd to be shot first and avoid witnessing the torture of others. There Nesaule sees a dead girl, strangled by her own mother, and the mother tortured and shot in turn by the Soviets. It is more than the young Nesaule can bear: ``The whole universe was motherless during the war and remained that way for me long afterwards.'' Subsequently, Nesaule goes in search of mother substitutes in an effort to recapture her lost innocence. What ultimately saves the author, now a professor of English and women's studies (Univ. of Wisconsin, Whitewater), is education, which provides a sense of mastery, and therapy, which allows her to face the past. Although less than striking in literary terms and too self- consciously preoccupied with the overworked theme of healing, this nevertheless offers unforgettable insight into the lasting emotional damage that war inflicts on women and children especially—a subject of acute interest today.
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