Saturday, February 1, 2014

Guest Post by D.S. Loren

 Albury Books, Ltd.
 Oxfordshire, UK


WEbooks Writers Community Bookstore

Amazon UK

Amazon USA

The life journey of a prisoner is inward within the darkness of the imperfect human heart.

The year is 1935. An innocent sixteen year old girl has been denounced as an enemy of the Soviet people. She is sentenced to five years imprisonment, eventually arriving within a brutal gulag where the average prisoner survives no more than three.

Her rites of passage are those of survival amidst barbaric inhumanity. Perhaps her greater conflict is simply trying to understand why?

As much as she protests she's accepted and come to terms with her life as it is, she hasn't. That she's constantly fighting herself is the story element driving her developing life philosophy. It's her idealized self she expresses and her real self she keeps living. She's trying to reconcile her contradictions, but truly can't. It's what makes her human and accessible. We all want to be our idealized self. We all of us just want to go home to a loving family.

She is young and intelligent and seeks to understand the madness behind the nonsense. She’s a survivor. She’s enterprising. She is quintessentially Russian.

But as she lives from cruelty to cruelly, Lyudmilla Maximovna Rodavitch becomes the equal of her world.

For a great many years, those in the West had little interest in knowing what those in the East preferred to forget. That has been changing, especially within a new generation in the East, who want to know, and are asking questions about their past.

In 1918, glorious Communism arose within the Soviet Union to finally bring collective salvation and perfection of humanity for the suffering masses.

For decades thereafter, systemic brutality, and a horror of inhumanity, such as the world has rarely seen, were the means utilized for bringing about the fundamental transformation of the Soviet people and Soviet society. 

It was the Progressive era of Grand Illusion – with the belief among those dedicated to the ongoing Socialist Revolution - that after all the hardship and suffering, after the terror of the never-ending purges and executions, after the reordering of society and the institution of the collective - the new Soviet man and new Soviet woman would be the exemplar for an entire world.  

The reality never matched the illusion.

The gulag system, first begun as a perceived political necessity, to rid society of those who stood in the way of a Progressive tomorrow, became, by the 1930’s, an economic necessity.

In a collective command economy where workers were often needed in places no one willingly wished to go, individuals, families, villages, towns, and entire regions, were declared enemies of the people, uprooted, transported, and resettled as slave labor in glorious service of the Soviet State.

Perversely, often the best and the brightest were to be found among those within the gulags, thrown away by a political class intolerant of ever being questioned.

This book and its continuing series began three years ago as a one page writing challenge on the WEbooks Writers Community website. The challenge was to write a thumbnail story about a monster. Mine was the only one to present as being monstrous, an idea, that an oppressive collective political ideology could bring perfection and equality to humanity. From that writing exercise grew a trilogy, whose subject was the horror of the Stalinist era of the 1930’s.

What began as a writing exercise became a short story, a novella, a novel, and now novels, epic in character. The story of an ordinary young woman's daily struggle to survive is an expansive tale writ small, the monstrous inhumanity and character of Stalinism and its destructive impact upon untold millions, illustrated from the perspective of a single individual's experience of it. There remains today, nowhere within the former Soviet Union, any family whose past members did not suffer desperately under communism.   

When I posted the original writing exercise on the website, a Russian émigré, living in London, wrote to me that she'd read it and was moved to email and encourage me to write the story as a novel, something I hadn't considered. She appealed to me, saying that women within that era, and within the gulags particularly, suffered more horribly than the men and yet those few stories making it the west spoke hardly at all of their suffering. Thereafter she sent me research and ideas. 

The inspiration to write this story was a former elderly neighbor, who has since passed away. Over the course of my association with her and her husband, I learned her life’s story, or at least those parts she was willing to tell. Much of what I learned, I learned from conversations with her husband, who asserted that she’d earned her Master’s Degree in survival in the gulags and her Doctorate within the German concentration camps.

She’d been born in Moscow in 1919, amidst the upheaval of the Bolshevik revolution and civil war that followed. At age sixteen, she was denounced as being unpatriotic and imprisoned, eventually within some of the most primitive and violent gulags imaginable. Her first experiences of imprisonment were those of serial rape and degradation, acts from which she miscarried one child and gave live birth to another.

She spent five years within the gulags, and upon release, was exiled to a collective farm in the Ukraine, upon the eve of World War II. The German Army invaded the following year and she was eventually captured and sent to a series of slave labor camps, an experience she miraculously survived. 

When I became aware she’d also been a holocaust survivor, I implored her to video-record her testimony and submit it to the Shoah Foundation project, for posterity. She declined. Her husband once remarked that she was less reluctant to speak of the things done to her than of the things she did to survive.  

I’m unaware of there ever being a story about a person who survived the horror of the gulags and the terror of the Holocaust. That the real life Lyudmilla did, is testimony to the tenacity of the human spirit and the will to live. 

Books One & Two cover her experiences within the gulags, with their character being markedly different. 

Within the first book, Lyuda is a prisoner within a relatively small camp for political prisoners. She is often within her head, parsing everything of her experience, trying to understand. But as her story progresses into the second of the series, she has less need to understand, than to act, and often predatorily. 

In the second book, Lyuda has been transferred to a camp for hardened male and female criminals, people easily capable of the unspeakably horrific. As with the first camp, Lyuda becomes by necessity, the equal of her world.  

Within the first book, Lyuda is entirely subject to the will of others and suffers accordingly. Within the second, she is able to act and make choices, and suffers accordingly. To her dismay, her choices often bring entirely unexpected conflicts and consequences.    

This book is largely a fact-based fiction, extensively researched upon historical accounts of other prisoners, and interwoven as texture within Lyuda’s life story.

Lyudmilla’s character arc is from passive to active, as she grows within a world entirely lacking moral concern or judgment and where survival remains the only imperative.

Lyuda’s human development proceeds from observer to actor, with various moral and ethical points of issue illustrated by remembrance of parable’s and object lessons taught to her as a little girl by her father.

Lyuda’s story is one of fall from Grace and partial redemption. Regardless her circumstance and the often monstrous character of her own actions, she’s motivated by a desire to help others. Despite her flawed character, Milla is a young woman whose redeeming virtue is that, despite all the inhumanity she’s suffered, she’s still capable of love and selflessness.

Stylistically, DASVIDANIYA RODINA is a stark presentation. The character of Lyudmilla, is simply female, beyond which there is no description. The horrors and brutalities as presented are simply matter of fact and in passing, as if it is presumed the reader is of course, already entirely aware. It is the absence of detail, I feel, which gives the story its emotional impact.

For example, Lyuda’s inability, for days on end, to simply wash her face and hands, describes more vividly the filth and primitive character of the camp without ever there being a description of the camp.

To date, this project exceeds 3,000 hours, built upon a foundation of thousands of pages of background research.

As my initial effort, I quickly became aware of the degree of difficulty and necessity of voluminous research, making historical fiction undoubtedly the hardest and most time intensive of all fiction.

For me, straight fiction simply falls out of my head and onto a page, and I’ve books that have encompassed no more than four hundred hours, three hundred to write and a hundred hours of edit and rewrite. I’ve little doubt that in the time it has taken to write the first two volumes of this book, I could’ve written half-a-dozen of straight fiction.

I’ve also no doubt that of all I’ve written, DASVIDANIYA RODINA is my Magnum Opus and undoubtedly the least commercial of my books. Not that it isn’t my finest work, but that it’s not likely to be a book with mass-market appeal.

I was in fact declined representation by a literary agent who wrote, “As much as I loved this exceptional work, I feel I must pass, as I don’t think it has commercial possibilities.”

I wrote back, “I’m not at all averse to making the MC a bisexual sparkly vampire.”

Strangely, the agent continued to decline.     

Chapter Excerpt

“Always, I was a criminal, even from the beginning.

Always, I asked questions that were many for a child and too many for my own good, because to ask is wrong and shows to others, you do not believe.

If you believe, why do you question?

And so it is our way to want to know, but not to ask, and sometimes want to ask, but do not really want to know.

To be Russian is to be a philosopher, yet have no respect for reason.

Reason will not help you understand the unreasonable circumstances in which you are everyday living.

Every Russian is a philosopher who scorns philosophy as having no useful purpose.

There is no God to be in our Soviet Union, and there is no hope, and therefore why are you looking for answers to questions there is no use asking?

Philosophy does not anyway prepare you for living, but for accommodating death.

Where there is no hope, of what good is philosophy other than to understand why you continue to exist when you have no reason to live other than not to die in horrible circumstances.

There are so many things I would like to know the hopeless reason, but there is no one to ask and no truth for them to tell even if they know, which they surely do not.

Everything I know is either lies or rumors, and even that which I see, I now surely doubt.       

No longer do I trust my reason. No longer do I know anything.”

                                                                        Lyudmilla Maximovna Rodavitch, 1935

Somewhere beyond the river and far

beyond the mountains


Other Books by D. S. Loren

DASVIDANIYA RODINA II                                Literary/women’s fiction

DASVIDANIYA RODINA III                               Literary/women’s fiction (in progress)


AN IMPERFECT HUMAN HEART                     Erotica

AYLIS OF THE ROCK                                       YA/Fantasy (in progress)

HEARTWORMS                                                Mystery (in progress)

GEMMA STARR                                               Mystery (in progress)

1 comment:

  1. I understand the frustration of a great idea that has a rarefied audience. You have found a member of that audience in me, and I shall be giving this one a try.