WHITE ROAD: A Russian Odyssey 1919-1923 by Olga Ilyin

WHITE ROAD: A Russian Odyssey 1919-1923

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KIRKUS REVIEW

The author, now in her 80s, is one of a dwindling band of White Russian ÉmigrÉs with cherished memories of pre-Revolutionary Russia--subject of her 1951 autobiographical novel, Dawn of the Eighth Day--and undimmed belief in Red ""savagery"" and ""the irrefutable rectitude of the White cause."" The present work is a novelistic reconstruction of her flight into Siberia, in 1919-21, with her infant son and other White officers' families, first by train and then by sled, in the wake of husband Igor Volotskoy's cavalry regiment. Finally, we have a more compressed account of her return to Soviet Russia, and her departure to rejoin Igor in Harbin, Manchuria--where they are ultimately reunited. The dramatic circumstances are overlaid with a romantic plot--the mutual attraction between Olga and her husband's best friend, aloof, mocking Serge Lorinov--and subplot: chum Oksana Belov's blind passion for suspect-defector Vladimir Verin. They are undercut by polemicizing and negated by self-dramatization. There are set-speeches--like Oksana's ""outcry"": ""Of course we have disappointed the Allies, but only after they dealt us their fateful blow of nonrecognition, The idiots assumed that we were fighting for the return of our possessions and privileges. In reality we have given up everything we had, to fight not only for Russia but for them also. Yes, for the whole world, its future."" There are Olga's periodic emotional outbursts: ""But happiness, what is it indeed? . . . Could it be that such a glow broke through to me now, just because I could lie down and stretch out. . . If this was only the physical relief of lying down, then why did I rise? What was I thankful for?"" She feels herself a victim, she believes in her good fortune (or divine providence)--and, in the nick, help always does come: Verin appears on a Moscow street, to get her a passport to Harbin; doling out her last 17 cents there (though with still more jewelry to sell off), she receives a 50-yen note from relatives in Japan. None of this makes for sympathetic engagement: there is much fervor, but no humor, and little perspective or warmth.

Pub Date: Nov. 5th, 1984
Publisher: Holt, Rinehart & Winston