A memoir recounts a woman’s search for happiness after a childhood terrorized by war.
When debut author Hershey was a young child, Europe was roiled by World War II, and her native Latvia was squeezed between the twin tyrannies of Hitler and Stalin. Starting at the age of 5, she spent four consecutive summers on her maternal grandmother’s farm in Riga, not far from the Baltic Sea. These were dangerous times, as there were often air raids causing frighteningly close explosions. Sometimes, pilots parachuted right down into fields from their ravaged aircraft and then disappeared into the trees. Soviet and German ground troops, too, came marching through, often hunting for provisions. In 1944, the war took a ferocious turn: the Germans were on the run, the Americans were leaving, and the author and her family were compelled to evade Soviet troops and leave Latvia. They went to Germany via Poland and spent the next six years living in refugee camps. After being turned down by both Australian and Canadian authorities, Hershey’s family made their way to the United States. She attended high school in New York City, studied chemistry at Brooklyn College, and found a job at the Rockefeller Institute, where she met her husband. But she suffered implacable depression, haunted by the trauma of her childhood years. Hershey finally decided she needed to write it all down and embedded herself in the literary community in Sacramento. Throughout this book, Hershey writes achingly about the lingering effects of her beleaguered youth: “I agonized about my major over solitary lunches in a small garden on the campus, where I had a squirrel for company,” she engagingly writes. “I had many interests but no compelling passions.” Also, she chillingly wraps the entire tale in the folds of a family tragedy—her grandfather’s murder in the dead of night, when her mother was just 14 years old. That said, the story meanders toward the end, as her remembrances of later vacations and foreign travel simply don’t stand up to the dramatic accounts that precede them.
A gripping—if sometimes unpolished—recollection of war and recovery.