It is rare that I can say a book has truly had an impact on me. Books may entertain, they may shock or make you laugh, they may take you deep into someone’s mind but ultimately I will find myself racking my brains trying to remember the plot of a book I’ve read only a few months previously. Yes, they are interesting at the time but they lack any real impact or lasting power. This book, however, is different.
Olga’s Story is a book I purchased prior to moving to Siberia for a few months. I wanted to learn a bit more about the personal side of Russia’s 20th century history. I wanted to hear about real people. I have never heard myself talk so much about a book whilst reading it and I’m finding myself recommending it to all my friends and family. Olga’s Story tells the story of Olga Yunter, a girl born in Siberia right before the violence of the Russian Revolution broke out. It tells of the country’s struggle and fight for political reforms once the last Tsar of Russia, Nicholas II, had abdicated his power in 1917. It gives us extraordinary insight into the lives of normal people at this time and their hopes for the political future of the country, an ideal which we now know was never to be reached. As a teenager Olga made the difficult decision to flee her home town on the back of a horse, disguised as a sack of goods; an act which saved her sister and father’s lives. We learn of her life in China before the Second World War and how tensions increased between not only China and the Bolsheviks but also China and Japan. I personally found this part of the book extremely interesting as at school students learn about the Second World War in terms of the impact it had on Europe. What students don’t learn, or at least I was never taught about, is the suffering that was taking place in China at the hands of the Japanese. I of course knew that the Japanese were involved in World War II but I was never entirely sure of how it all pieced together and the scale of suffering. It tells of how Olga then fled with her daughter to Canada whilst leaving her husband in Shanghai and then the terrible discovery that he had been placed in a work camp in the factory where he used to be employed. The psychological impact this experience had on Olga and her husband is clear to see when they are reunited in China once again and it informs the reader about what many other families must have been going through.
This book manages to tell history in a personal way, whilst still informing about the political situation between the years 1900 and 1948. I found it extremely fascinating and learnt a lot more than I expected to from it. You can read history books and know all the facts about a certain period of time, a certain war, a certain event, but until you’ve lived through these events through someone who was there I don’t believe you can ever fully understand what it is that people went through. I’m not about to say that I now know the full story after having learnt about it through Olga, but I can say that it has given me a deeper understanding and knowledge of this period of history. Not only is it informative but it is also written in a way that managed to keep me going through a 56 hour train journey across Russia and be annoyed when we reached Moscow as it meant I would have to stop reading it; not your average dull history book!