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Among the Living and the Dead: A Tale of…

Among the Living and the Dead: A Tale of Exile and Homecoming on the War… (2017)

by Inara Verzemnieks

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There are a thousand stories like the one that this book tells. When you ask a Latvian (or Lithuanian, or an Estonian, or a person from any other small nation that has been occupied on and off for centuries), everyone has a war story of loss and trauma and separation. That is why my relatives in Latvia were nonplussed when they heard that my farther's story would be written and published years ago. This story is distinct from any other I have read for its seamlessly inter-woven non-linear plot, its evocative and poetic language, and the emotional kick that the combination delivers.

Inara, the author, was raised by her Latvian grandparents who were settled in the US as refugees from WWII. Throughout her childhood she is kept up with Latvian ways in part by the existence of a strong community in the place her grandparents were settled, but mostly because her carers have a deep sense of place and an intense love of and mourning for their place birth. The sense of loss that her displaced grandmother has is palpable, and Inara traces her and her families histories throughout the course of this book.

The story unfolds beautifully, and it retains its beauty and poetry throughout. Although it contains elements of both, this is not a book of war facts, nor a personal legacy book. What it is, is something altogether unique and could be read for the beautiful use of language alone. In addition, it parallels (to a certain degree) my own family history and so adds to what I know about some of the experiences my relatives faced. Anyone interested in WWII or refugees or history could read this book, it certainly gave me a renewed sense of empathy for those displaced by war. ( )
3 vote LovingLit | Jan 4, 2019 |
Inara Verzemnieks is a graduate of the University of Iowa’s Nonfiction Writing Program and has won several awards, least of which a creative nonfiction award. This creative nonfiction award so perfectly captures why this book is so incredible. Inara unravels her grandmother’s life in this nonfiction book as she eloquently takes us into the past while maintaining our grip on the present. Her grandmother, Livija, fled Latvia during WWII and was a refugee prior to making a new home in America. Inara, the author, details her experiences as she travels back to Latvia and digs into her family’s past. I have never visited Latvia or studied it’s culture, but Inara’s writing makes it so incredibly easy to visualize each scene.

For the full review visit: https://fortheloveofthepageblog.wordpress.com/2017/10/05/iowa-city-book-festival... ( )
  JillRey | Oct 5, 2017 |
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"'It's long been assumed of this region, where my grandmother was born, ...that at some point each year the dead will come home,' Inara Verzemnieks writes in this heartrending story of war, exile, and reconnection. Her grandmother's stories recalled one true home: the family farm left behind in Latvia during the Second World War. There, her grandmother Livija and her great-aunt, Ausma, were separated. Livija fled the fighting to become a refugee; Ausma was exiled to Siberia under Stalin: the sisters would not see each other again for more than fifty years. Raised by her grandparents in Washington State, Inara grew up among expatriates, scattering smuggled Latvian sand over the coffins of the dead, singing folk songs about a land she had never visited. In a box of her grandmother's belongings, Inara discovers the scarf Livija wore when she left home. This tangible remnant of the past points the way back to the remote village where her family broke apart. In Latvia, Inara comes to know Ausma, her family, their land and its stories, and there pieces together Livija's survival through years as a refugee. Weaving together these two parts of the family story in spellbinding, lyrical prose, Verzemnieks gives us a profound and cathartic account of love, loss, and survival."--Jacket.… (more)

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