A painfully beautiful portrayal of an indomitable, loving mother’s survival.

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MY SISTER'S MOTHER

A MEMOIR OF WAR, EXILE, AND STALIN'S SIBERIA

In this heart-wrenching debut memoir, a mother and child survive Stalin’s work camp then struggle to find inner calm in America.

As a child growing up in 1950s Chicago, Urbikas longed for a “normal” mom. Instead, her Polish-born mother, Janina, often told gruesome war stories and talked to herself in the mirror. But as Urbikas matured and suffered her own hardships, she began to understand her mother’s need to recount her past. On the extremely cold morning of Feb. 10, 1940, Communist soldiers pounded on Janina’s farmhouse door near Grodno, Poland, and informed her—a young, single mother—that she was sentenced to 10 years of hard labor. She and 5-year-old daughter Mira were stuffed into lice-ridden train cars and taken to a remote logging camp in the Siberian wilderness. Fed little and plagued by vermin, disease, and blistering cold, Janina lugged a heavy ax 4 miles to and from work every day, where she chopped thick branches off trees. Meanwhile, poor little Mira was left by herself to wait in agonizing bread lines, often unsuccessfully. After years of torture, Janina and Mira—helped by a Polish army officer who eventually married Janina—escaped to England and then America. Urbikas’ flashbacks are seamless as she alternates chapters between her mother’s and sister’s stories—written in third person—versus her own first-person account. With many vivid sensory details—like “the grainy taste of…coarse rye bread”—the author’s lyrical prose instantly transports readers to the labor camp. This gripping page-turner is also filled with stark contrasts. For example, in the camp, Mira and Janina sleep together on a dirty, bedbug-infested cot, and when Janina feels a rat scrabble across her chest, she can barely lift her tired arm to heave it onto the floor. In contrast, one of Urbikas’ biggest worries is making the majorettes team in her American high school. A realistic depiction of the effects of evil, Janina’s and Mira’s experiences are sometimes overwhelming. In one scene, a tiny girl drowns and nobody helps.

A painfully beautiful portrayal of an indomitable, loving mother’s survival.

Pub Date: April 27, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-299-30850-6

Page Count: 312

Publisher: Univ. of Wisconsin

Review Posted Online: March 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2019

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor...

INTO THE WILD

The excruciating story of a young man on a quest for knowledge and experience, a search that eventually cooked his goose, told with the flair of a seasoned investigative reporter by Outside magazine contributing editor Krakauer (Eiger Dreams, 1990). 

Chris McCandless loved the road, the unadorned life, the Tolstoyan call to asceticism. After graduating college, he took off on another of his long destinationless journeys, this time cutting all contact with his family and changing his name to Alex Supertramp. He was a gent of strong opinions, and he shared them with those he met: "You must lose your inclination for monotonous security and adopt a helter-skelter style of life''; "be nomadic.'' Ultimately, in 1992, his terms got him into mortal trouble when he ran up against something—the Alaskan wild—that didn't give a hoot about Supertramp's worldview; his decomposed corpse was found 16 weeks after he entered the bush. Many people felt McCandless was just a hubris-laden jerk with a death wish (he had discarded his map before going into the wild and brought no food but a bag of rice). Krakauer thought not. Admitting an interest that bordered on obsession, he dug deep into McCandless's life. He found a willful, reckless, moody boyhood; an ugly little secret that sundered the relationship between father and son; a moral absolutism that agitated the young man's soul and drove him to extremes; but he was no more a nutcase than other pilgrims. Writing in supple, electric prose, Krakauer tries to make sense of McCandless (while scrupulously avoiding off-the-rack psychoanalysis): his risky behavior and the rites associated with it, his asceticism, his love of wide open spaces, the flights of his soul.

A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor will it to readers of Krakauer's narrative. (4 maps) (First printing of 35,000; author tour)

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1996

ISBN: 0-679-42850-X

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Villard

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 1995

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