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Valda Gebhart

Adult; Memoir; (Market)

A young Latvian woman, responsible for the safety of her parents, her sister and their nursing children, leads the family’s remarkable journey of escape ahead the Soviet Army advancing on Rīga and into the clutches of the retreating German Army. Natālija is brave story rich in human emotion.  It is a memoir of survival, irreconcilable love, and heart wrenching loss as the Petrockis family is dispatched to a series of German labor camps before liberation by American forces and eventual emigration to Mississippi

This heart-wrenching World War II memoir reveals how Natālija Petrockis, a Latvian living under German occupation, fled with her family when, in the summer of 1944, the Russian Red Army reached the borders of their beloved city, Rīga. The sisters Natalija, Musīte and Vera planned their flight to ensure that their father did not again fall into Russian hands; an earlier imprisonment had almost resulted in his death. On Musīte’s instructions, Natālija–though the youngest–takes charge and, together with their parents and children, Natāljia and Vera board a train to Liepāja. Musīte and her husband Kārlis stay behind, promising to join them a day later. None of them realise that the parting is final. The train is diverted by the German troops and later bombed, and thus begins the travails of the family as they flee the Russians in hopes of reaching the American front and rescue.

Written in Latvian and translated by her daughter, Valda, the most striking quality of the memoir is the author’s eye for detail. In immersive, suspenseful scenes, she remembers not just physical characteristics like her surroundings or particulars of a journey, but also powerfully evokes the expressions on faces and her own in-the-moment thoughts and fears: “We watched the bombs fall to the ground like glowing candles, followed by bursts of loud explosions, and sending splashes of light into the vastness of the sky.” Her love for her family in the face of constant hunger and fear is stirring. Even when circumstances are dire, she feels thankful that they are at least together.

By reliving her terrible journey, Natālija demonstrates the incredible resilience of the human spirit in the face of hardship. Like other World War II and refugee memoirs, this will leave the reader shaken, convinced about the futility of war and the untold suffering it causes, most often to people who have no hand in its outbreak.

Takeaway: This World War II refugee memoir demonstrates the indomitable human spirit and the meaninglessness of war.

Great for fans of: Nella Last’s Nella Last’s War, Madeleine K. Albright’s Prague Winter, Eleanor Perényi’s More Was Lost.

Production grades
Cover: A
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: N/A
Editing: A
Marketing copy: B