Albert Camus

Don't walk behind me; I may not lead. Don't walk in front of me; I may not follow. Just walk beside me and be my friend.

Monday, June 29, 2015

an ever-present threat - Red Stone by Gabriele Goldstone

Inspired by a true story, Red Stone explores the trauma and heart¬break suffered by many families in the Soviet Union during the 1930s when Stalin seized individual property and villainized property owners as kulaks.


Katya knows all about Stalin’s big plans; she learned of them in school. But those plans mean little to her until the secret police arrest Papa and seize their family farm. With Mama and her younger siblings, Katya is shoved into a crowded train headed for a forced labour camp in Siberia. Torn from everything she has ever known, Katya faces cold and hunger, and the ever-present threat of lost hope. As she clings to a single red stone from the fields of her homeland, she questions life. Where is Papa? Will she ever see him again? And what will become of Katya’s family?

Inspired by a true story, Red Stone explores the trauma and heart-break suffered by many families in the Soviet Union during the 1930s when Stalin seized individual property and villainized property owners as kulaks.

Red Stone was previously published as The Kulak's Daughter back in 2009. It's being re-birthed with some healthy edits, some new scenes and a sequel—Broken Stone—set for a fall release. I'll be celebrating the release of both books in the fall with a launch at McNally Robinson's here in Winnipeg.


“You own land and livestock, and you hire outside help. That makes you a kulak,” says Marissa’s father.

“Humph,” Papa grunts.

“They call us rich peasants,” says another man.

“Rich?” Papa shouts. “True, we have enough to eat. The children have shoes on their feet, but rich?”

I squirm and scratch in my hiding spot, while thinking about Papa’s words. He is right. There is no money for more than one Sunday dress in my closet—the green velvet one with the satin ribbon—and the only reason I own new shoes is because I’m the oldest. Don’t rich people have lots of dresses and no hand-me-downs? I pull at a piece of straw tickling my nose. 

“I’m immigrating to North America before it’s too late,” says another man. “I’ve got relatives there.”

“You need a passport,” someone else says.

“My papers are ready and I have money for the boat. I’ll send for my family as soon as I’ve arranged us a place. There is cheap land over there. I’ve had it with this Bolshevik nonsense.”

That must be Peter’s father. Peter talks at school about his father’s plan. Sometimes it sounds like he’s bragging, but other times he sounds scared. I think I’d be scared to move away from all my friends.

“I’m not leaving my land,” Papa says. “My father worked hard to make this into a prosperous farm. My brother, Reinhold, he walked away from it all. Sure, he’s doing good in East Prussia. The grass is always greener on the other side.”

I don’t remember Uncle Reinhold. He moved away when I was just a baby and Papa never talks about him. I peek out at Papa. In the kerosene light, his face looks hard.

“Franz, take my advice. Maybe you should follow your brother.”

“No! I’ll not let strangers take over my land.” Papa stands up. His voice grows louder. “I’ll not let Stalin cuckoo his way into my life.” 

Cuckoo? I cover the gasp that escapes my mouth. What does Papa mean? Does he think Stalin acts like a cuckoo? How silly!

“Calm down,” someone tells him.

Papa lowers his voice, but it’s still forceful. “This was my father’s farm. I grew up on this land, like the wheat. And I’ve dreamed about building this very windmill since I was a young boy.” As he shakes his head, light and shadow dance on his hard face. Papa waves his arms, like the windmill during the storm. “No one can have it! Not even Stalin!”

“It’s a fine windmill, Franz,” a voice agrees. “You should be proud.”

Papa’s voice warms with pride. “It’s a solid piece of workmanship.” He raises his lantern upward, highlighting the notched timbers. Thank you all for helping me with the construction.”

There’s a general murmur while an annoying tickle grows in my nose.

“Listen, men...neighbours. How bad can things become? Let’s ride out these hard times. We’ll survive. We can cooperate, make deals. I’m a reasonable man.”

I cover my nose, willing the tickle to stop.

More murmuring. Someone laughs. But it’s not a happy sound.

Whether it’s the dust or just being wet from the rain, the sneeze growing in me will not go away. 

Like a dog running after an auto, the sneeze rises in me and will not be stopped. “Haa, haa, haa...choo!” In the silence that follows I stand up, and covered with shame and straw, show my bedraggled self.

The men all laugh and this time, they sound happy.

I bow my messy head, expecting Papa’s tongue lashing. Instead, he lifts my chin and says, “This is why I’m staying—for the children. This is their land, too. It’s their future.”

Papa pulls a stray piece of straw from my hair, as the men all shuffle out. 

“Let’s go home, Katya,” he says to me. “Your mama is worried about you.”

I’m relieved he’s not angry.

“Did you learn something tonight?”

“Yes, Papa. I learned that you and Comrade Stalin will never agree.”

Papa chuckles. “Yes, we can agree on that.”

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About the author:
GABRIELE GOLDSTONE, the oldest daughter of Euro­pean immigrants, always looked for stories about her parents’ past. She majored in 20th century German literature at university but was disappointed that she could not find the stories she sought. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, her mother’s anecdotes and history began to click together. In 2004, Gabriele traveled to Ukraine and searched through former KGB files to find more missing pieces—and Katya’s red stone. Gabriele lives in Winnipeg, Manitoba and has three adult children along with a silver-grey cat and a golden-haired dog.

1 comment:

Jan Lee said...

This would be an interesting book to read if I were to get a paperback copy. I could then pass it on to the next generation in my family, sort of like the family in the excerpt :)