When she first set out to write Notes from My Captivity, Kathy Parks didn’t know that her story would take her on the road to magic and illusion, expectation versus reality, and mourning versus absolution.
The story is loosely based on the Lykov family, who, in the 1940s, fled their home in Russia because of religious persecution and headed to Siberia. “The true-life story of this family is just so fascinating and grim,” says Parks. In fact, by the time geologists exploring for oil had discovered the family, the mother had starved to death during the winter months. “I stumbled across the story of this family that, in our world full of modern conveniences, lived in unimaginable stress, danger, and privation. The two younger children had never seen a human being outside their family in their lives before the geologists came,” Parks says.
In Notes from My Captivity, the Osinovs are similarly cut off from the world in Siberia, existing only in the imagination of scholars and hopeful dreamers. No one knows whether they’re real or simply myth. Daniel Westin, a geologist, has devoted his life to studying the Osinovs, trying to both identify their whereabouts and prove to the world that they are in fact real. When the book opens, our 17-year-old protagonist, Adrienne Cahill, is about to go off on an expedition with Dan, her stepfather, to once and for all find where the Osinovs are hiding. As an aspiring journalist, Adrienne is desperately looking for a story she can take with her to college, but she carries with her the heavy weight of adolescent jadedness and cynicism.
“I am very interested in the story of this girl who thinks she has all the answers and thinks she knows the nature of truth,” Parks says. It’s true that the notion of truth is systematically challenged throughout the novel, but this rings especially true for Adrienne, who not only grapples with reality’s harsh thunder but also with a blinding anger she’s carried with her ever since her father died in a car accident. By sending Adrienne on this expedition, Parks forces her to face reality as it is in “the wild,” as it is outside of technological achievement and access. In other words, the remoteness through which the story takes place confronts Adrienne with truth as it is untouched by globalization. “I think that is a fantasy of a lot of people in the modern world, to want to cut off all the distractions—the media, rumors, bad news, manipulations—and go back to a simpler, a more private way of life,” Parks says.
Parks argues that media and technology have made our lives too complicated, too materialistic, and, as a result, we’ve forgotten how to dream, how to believe in the mystical. But she is also encouraging us to understand the media as something other than lived experience. Notes from My Captivity effectively embodies the triumph of fact over rumor. When both Adrienne and the reader arrive at the startling answer as to whether the Osinovs exist, the press is not invited into that sanctum.
“Sometimes, I suffer from that romantic notion that magic can be found out there, somewhere at the end of the Earth, somewhere in a lonely place, instead of believing, which I think is truer, that magic can be found anywhere,” confesses Parks. Ultimately, the author has created a narrative that borrows from both magical realism and various journalistic practices to shed light on our contemporary disbelief about individuals living off the grid. The book is a beautiful exposé of the difficulties of mourning and forgiveness, and Parks doesn’t shy away from anchoring her survival story in countless instances of comic relief and frequent appearances of the supernatural.
Michael Valinsky is a writer from Paris and New York. His work has been published in Paper Magazine, them, Hyperallergic, Los Angeles Review of Books, OUT Magazine, and BOMB Magazine, among others. He currently lives in Los Angeles.