A breathtaking biography of a gripping and moving Australian immigrant saga set against the backdrop of ancient and modern Russian history. It introduces the reader by briefly touching on Russian history, the Russian Far East, Russians in China and in general the Russian Diaspora of the 20th Century along with a touch of Australian flavour and how the author ended up calling Australia HOME. However, the human interest of Alex’s family of Russian colonists is continually brought to the fore through the interweaving of personal accounts, reflection and, an anthropological and forensic application to what he recalls and have been told.
A family of Russian Colonists settle and develop new extremities of Russia. Their journey spans over two hundred years and takes them southward close to the Black Sea. Eventually they cross the vast sea of land and resettle in the untamed Russian Far East. Their involvement with the Far Eastern Railroad and the gold fields leads them to a new Russian City – Harbin along the Sungari River in the Manchurian Hills.
By 1920, like Shangri-La, Harbin provides sanctuary for countless refugees seeking freedom from the clutches of the Soviet regime who take over their homeland. Their reprieve is disturbed by a new invader – from the Empire of the Rising Sun – Japan. Just as the aggressors are rebuked, the evil claw again extends from beyond their homeland wooing them to return. Some of the remaining descendants flee once more, this time across the ocean to Australia. They were men and women with wills of steel,tempered by their long journey. This strength helped them to adapt and succeed in the Land Down Under.
The story at times begs the questions:
Was Harbin a fantasy-inspired Shangri-La or a transient residence for thousands of refugees biding their time?
What was the unseen force protecting Harbin from the planned bombings by the Soviets, the Japanese and later the Americans?
What led Alexander’s father to return into the clutches of the NKVD only to be incarcerated once again and sent to a GULAG from which he earlier escaped?
How did his mother with two little children survive for six years under the twin forces of evil of Stalin and Mao Tse Tung?
Whilst in war-torn Germany a baby girl survives in a Berlin bunker. How will her path intertwine with Alexander?
Life must be lived forward but it
can only be understood backwards
Soren Kierkegaard 1813-55
In Imperial Russia, there used to be four social classes. As in the West, the main three were the working class – peasants and labourers; the middle class or bourgeoisie – administrative personnel, merchants, clerks, professionals and clergy; and the aristocracy, including the nobility (both ‘personal’ and ‘hereditary’) and the titular (title-holders), such as princes and counts.
The fourth class, the Cossacks, was rather unique. The Cossacks were allotted land, a certain degree of autonomy and self-government.
For this semi-autonomy, each man was required to give twenty years
of military service to the Tsar, commencing at the age of eighteen.
Their services were mainly used for protection against border incursions
and during times of war. At birth, the class of an individual was recorded on the birth certificate and in a special ‘Book of Births’ so there could be no future doubt as to his or her status. To some degree, the Cossack Clans could be said to resemble the Scottish Clans; the Macgregors, MacDonalds, Campbells and so on.
This is a story which covers a period of about 200 years. It is near enough to a biography about my family, or rather a number of families whose roots intertwine all class barriers and stretch across half the globe as they journeyed to new lands to better their lives and sometimes to save them.
The story also covers briefly a period of Russian history from the beginning – the summoning of the Viking warriors to the fall of the Romanov Empire and the resulting Russian Diaspora. It does
it in a way to introduce the reader, unfamiliar with the Russian
beginnings, to what Russia used to be. The historical information is sourced from Old Russian chronicles, eminent historians, encyclopedias, and word of mouth, from those who lived through some
of the more recent horrors of the Russian tragedy. The historic outline covers the development and richness of Russian thought and culture, its never-ending turmoils and some of its contributions to our world.
My family’s life is deeply intertwined in Russian history and the resulting Diaspora and typifies to the reader what millions of Russians went through during the turbulent times of the 20th century.
Although I was unable to acquire all of my family’s history, I filled in the gaps the way it may have happened to the best of my ability through deductive reasoning of events – similar family behavioural patterns of blood relatives, family chitchat and factoring in of surrounding events of the time. As such I take full responsibility for any errors in the story for which I hope my ancestors will forgive me.
My grandparents and parents fled from Russia to China during the Russian Civil War immediately after
World War I. Most of my family survived two generations of the worst bloodshed, political and economic upheaval experienced during the 20th century (World War I, the Russian Civil War, Japanese occupation, World War II,
Stalin’s GULAGS and Political Oppression).
Although my father and two of my uncles survived Stalin’s postwar GULAGS, four of my granduncles were killed in the Russian Civil War and one distinguished himself and lived to tell the tale.
Both of my grandfathers died during the Japanese occupation of Manchuria, one as a result of torture, and the other from stress and related physical ailments.
My wife, who brought much love and joy to my development, experienced with her parents and grandparents similar dislocation and turmoil in fleeing from Russia at about the same time as my family, but fleeing in the opposite direction of France and Germany. They experienced life under Hitler, the destruction of Berlin and the postwar Displaced Persons camps prior to coming
here to Australia.
Kirkus Discoveries N Y
The book resonates with life. The author has packed around his family’s history some interesting asides about cuisine, theosophy, art, music and literature, the effects of war on ordinary lives and the hard work, sense of freedom and ultimately the development of families thrust into a new and totally different country. In this family memoir, anecdotes of hope and courage enliven the bleak backdrop of war and deprivation… the family’s belief in one another and their promising future, despite volatile political events and the necessity of starting over—again and again
Vladimir Kouzmin, Editor Unification (Russian Weekly National Newspaper)
“A captivating read, personifying a series of significant – historical broad ranging events – as lived through by the author and his family, spanning the 20th Century of Russia, China and Australia. A heritage left for the future generations in its intimate account of what it’s like to lose part of one’s family and homeland and finally reach Australian shores to ultimately call it home.”
John Morrow’s Pick of the Week Armidale
“From Russia to China, around the world and back again – share the author’s well researched family story and how he came to call Australia home.”