Sunday, April 8, 2012

A spellbinding memoir of escape from tyranny and death.

I am willing to bet that most people know very little about the Ukraine and its history beyond the Chernobyl nuclear power plant disaster and perhaps the Ukraine's independence when the Soviet Union unraveled. Fewer still may know about Stalin’s brutal campaign to starve the Ukrainian people into submission in the years before World War II. That is the world into which Andy Szpuk’s father, Stefan, was born and where lived until, as a young teenager, he and his father were forced to flee their home village to avoid execution at the hands of the invading German army. After a few months with his father’s sister and her family in a town further west, the whole town was forced to flee to the west to avoid the now retreating Germans. From there, Stefan and his father are pretty much on their own.

Imagine being 14 or 15 years old, being on the run, wondering what has happened to your mother, and what will happen to you as you flee into the Carpathian Mountains, cross into Slovakia (Czechoslovakia), into the Czech region ... and then your father is killed in an air raid, leaving you absolutely alone and knowing only one thing: you must find food, and you must continue going west until you reach Germany just as the war has ended and you are at the very end of your rope.
This memoir is a page-turner that will keep you on the edge of your seat, make you cheer and weep and give a high five to Stefan when he makes it to England and begins a new life. Then another high five when he and his family visit his old home village to meet family members he has never seen.
My hat is off to his son Andy for writing his father’s story down so the rest of us can read it, and to the Ukrainian people for never giving up no matter what the obstacles are.
A definite 5 Star read.   

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