When Canadian journalist Stephanie Williams set out to discover her Russian grandmother’ s long-lost history, what she unearthed was this stunning, sprawling portrait of a life lived on the grand stage of the 20th century.
Born in remote Siberia in 1900, Olga Yunter was the youngest of five children. As a teenager during the Revolution, she was a courier and arms-runner for the White Russians. After learning of the execution of her brother at the hands of the Red Army, which drew nearer every day, her father sent her to China with rubies and gold sewn into her petticoats. She would never see her family again.
The life of a Russian exile in China meant poverty and fear. But Olga was lucky. She met and married Fred Edney, and gave birth to their daughter, Irina, the author’s mother. But the creeping Japanese occupation and invasion of China forced Olga to flee with Irina to Canada, leaving Fred behind to continue working. For five years she heard almost nothing of her husband, save that he was alive in a Japanese prison camp. At the end of the war she returned to China to find him broken by his internment. The family was driven out of the country for good by the Chinese Revolution in 1949. They settled in Oxford, where Olga and Fred lived out the rest of their days.
Drawing on letters, diaries, government documents, and interviews, Stephanie Williams brings to life this gripping historical drama, sweeping in scope and illuminated by the intimate details of one woman’s extraordinary life.
From the Hardcover edition.
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|Title of eBook: Olga's Story|
|Release Date: 12-18-2007|
|Allowed Countries (hover)|
|Publisher: Doubleday Publishing|
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July 1900: Far away from anywhere, in a village in southern Siberia, a black banner tied to a high wooden gate was drifting in the light summer breeze. It was a warning to all those who passed the rough wooden house in the small hamlet of Yelan that someone with diphtheria lay within. The villagers who passed the house-the sons and daughters of Cossack families who had lived there for generations, peasants who had come to escape the famines of the southern Volga, and elderly Polish revolutionaries who had been exiled there some thirty-five years before-crossed themselves and murmured expressions of dismay. But two-year-old Anya Yunter was already dead.
Poor child. Some said that it was just a case of croup and sometimes croup killed you. But diphtheria-who could do anything about diphtheria? In any case, as everybody knew, a child was lucky to live to grow up. The Yunter family was fortunate. The father, Semyon Vassilyevich, worked for one of the richest men in this part of Siberia. He already had four healthy children, and, what's more, there was another on the way.
The white coffin was tiny. It stood on a small table in a corner of the long, low room, two fat candles at its head and feet. Above it, clouds of incense rose from a small hanging censer. On a rough wooden shelf nailed into the wall, the red glow of the lampada illuminated the Yunter family's most treasured possession: the precious face of Saint Vladimir, shrouded in a heavy silver frame. Beyond it, a portrait of His Majesty the Tsar stuck out unevenly from the wall of whitewashed logs. Outside the sun was shining, but in the room the windows were closed and the curtains were drawn. Within the