How Long Is Exile?

BOOK I: The Song and Dance Festival of Free Latvians

by Astrida Barbins-Stahnke



Book Details

Language : English
Publication Date : 10/23/2015

Format : Softcover
Dimensions : 6x9
Page Count : 406
ISBN : 9781514403259
Format : Hardcover
Dimensions : 6x9
Page Count : 406
ISBN : 9781514403266
Format : E-Book
Dimensions : N/A
Page Count : 406
ISBN : 9781514403242

About the Book

The novel How Long Is Exile? because of its length had to be divided into two books: I—The Festival of Song and Dance and II—Going Home. The novel is about the Latvian people who suffered in and around World War II, as the two major world powers—Communist Russia and Nazi Germany—converged in fierce battles on the Amber land at the Baltic Sea until it was conquered by one, then the other, and again by the first, and its two million people were as if sliced up in many parts and scattered throughout the world. Divided with each part longing for the other, the nation survived the hot and cold wars, keeping the hope of freedom and the return home alive. That hope was nurtured in ethnic communities and especially enforced at supplemental schools and festivals. As a portion of refugees spun off and assimilated in their various host countries, a large remnant remained and kept the flame of freedom alive. This was no easy and cheap task. It called for dedication, sacrifice, money, and courage. It was watched and monitored from within and without for half a century until, in 1990, the Soviet Union collapsed, the Iron Curtain and the Berlin Wall fell, and the euphoria touched every East European country. As a participant in that so-called exile state, I began writing my version of the experience after the Milwaukee festival, filtering it through the consciousness of my main character Milda Bērziņa-Arājs, who, coming out of mourning for her husband, Kārlis Arājs, arrives at the festival, ready to turn a new leaf in her life. During the four days with like-minded people, interesting events, and common recollections of her childhood, the war and postwar experiences in a displaced persons’ camp flash before her in a swirling kaleidoscope and, at the end, throws her in the direction she did not plan to go. Book I ends there. It is a meditative, reflective life-based fiction that probes deeply into Milda’s psyche and also of other characters who travel the journey with her. Through Milda’s thoughts and actions, we see that the lasting impact of war and how it branches out and goes on onto the third and fourth generations.

About the Author

I was born on March 15, 1935, in Priekule, Latvia, to Reverend Juris and Milda Barbins, the fourth of six children. My father was minister of the Priekule Baptist Church, which he served for thirteen years. In 1939, needing more land for his growing family, he moved us to a fourteen-hectare farmland called Mazgramzda, which, after a land reform act, had been divided off a Baltic German’s property. The transition from town to country was difficult, especially for our Liepaja born and Riga University–educated mother, whom I greatly admired. Except for my father, our family missed our grand home in Priekule and the cultural life even of a small town. Without allowing for choices, the family became farm laborers, who worked hard to turn a weedy ground into rich and prosperous farmland. Father was buying building materials for a mansion of our own, buying choice cattle, turning a spring into a pond, for he envisioned a promising future. He did not give up his ministry but served several country churches, making the rounds on Sunday mornings, making the congregations bigger and happier. He often took us all along in our horse-drawn droshka. It was on those trips and other excursion where, early in life, I learned to love my native pastoral landscape and the stories of the Bible, for at a very early age I too was a little herding girl and many times had to look out for the wolves that frightened my lambs. In time, Mother also adjusted to country life and, trusting her husband’s wisdom and the national president’s assurance of Latvia’s economic progress, believed in a better and easier future. But then came World War II. Our country had already lost its freedom in June 1940, when Russian-supported communism crossed the eastern border of Latvia and spent a year setting up new rules of order, followed by massive deportations in June 1941. Weeks later, the German army crossed the southern border and marched in as liberators, only to be defeated three years later. As our family’s name (as many others) was on the next list for deportation, we escaped from our harvested fields of Mazgramzda on Sunday morning, October 8, 1944, when the German and Russian armies were five kilometers from our home. We barely had two hours’ time to escape, which we did in our horse-drawn wagon. Suddenly, we were among a caravan of refugees, heading southwest into Germany. There is no need to continue with the biographical sketch as the general course of our family and the people of our country is outlined in this novel. And this is a novel, not a memoir. The time and settings are quite accurate, but the characters and events are fiction, though rooted in real historical events, people, and impressions as viewed and experienced through the lives of each character. Any resemblance to real people and situations as described are coincidental.