Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Victory Day!

Today (May 8) is VE (Victory in Europe) Day in Canada - marking the 68th anniversary of the end of WWII. Sadly, a large number of Canadians are unaware of this. It is not a public holiday. (As an aside, the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa was officially opened on VE Day in 2005. If you are ever in Ottawa it is a must-see.) In Russia it is a different story. Victory Day is celebrated on May 9. It culminates a week of holidays, and it is a big deal! One of the events that I am most happy to have participated in was Victory Day in Moscow.

I mentioned in an earlier post that Daughter1 had lived and worked in Moscow for a year. She planned her vacation time that year around the Victory Day holidays and Mr. Fun and me headed to Russia to visit her. Now Daughter1 has been a serious Russophile since she was a child. All things Russian, all the time. Although I had had little interest in the country before, her enthusiasm has always been difficult to ignore.

The week leading up to Victory Day was spent in St. Petersburg (Leningrad during the Soviet period). We took the overnight train north from Moscow. When we walked out of Moscow Station we were greeted by a building with a huge sign that read "Hero City."  It wasn't until later that I came to understand what this city endured during The 900-day Siege that saw nearly three-quarters of a million civilians starve to death. It is truly deserving of the name.

Preparing for Victory Day in St. Petersburg
Winter Palace Square

The Bronze Horseman
(Peter the Great)

We returned to Moscow the day before Victory Day. In our absence, spring had sprung. It was the most beautiful day as we took the metro toward Red Square. A festive spirit filled the air. The streets were closed to traffic and people were everywhere. It was a huge celebration.  We were touched beyond words at the sight of people offering flowers to veterans; thanking them for their service and sacrifice, and asking to have their photo taken with them. It was unlike anything I had witnessed before. Daughter1 gives an excellent description of the day on her blog, The Devushka Diary, which she kept while living in Russia. Victory Day was also our last day in Russia. About midnight, when the fireworks were over, we headed for Domodedovo Airport.

An image from Anna Reid's Leningrad
  with photo of Daughter1 meeting veteran at Red Square, Moscow
I hope I have piqued your interest because it really is a fascinating culture and history. And now for some great book recommendations.

Reid, Anna. Leningrad: tragedy of a city under siege, 1941-44. Penguin, 2011. 492 p.


Audience: Adult

Ms. Reid uses a large number of newly-found diaries to paint a very human portrait of daily life during the siege. Images are very detailed and descriptive; yet, they are backed by statistics and facts. She concentrates on the first siege winter of 1941-42 when more than 100,000 Leningraders were dying each month. She succeeds in letting these heroes tell their own story.

Dunmore, Helen. The Siege. London: Penguin, 2001.

Genre: Historical Fiction

Audience: Adult

I loved, loved, loved this novel. It was the first book  I read about Leningrad after returning from Russia, and it was what really made the siege come alive for me. You cannot help but feel as if you are surviving (barely) along with the characters. It is beautifully written, and as I discovered after reading Ms. Reid's Leningrad, very historically accurate. You will have unbelievable respect for the people who lived through this dark period. Sequel: The Betrayal (also recommended).

Simons, Paullina. Bronze Horseman (1st in Tatiana and Alexander trilogy) HarperCollins, 2001.

Genre: Romance, Historical Fiction

Audience: Adult

If you are a Romance fan, this is the book for you. It has often been called "the Russian Thornbirds, " if that provides a clearer picture. If you have even the slightest romantic bone in your body, you will fall in love with Tatiana and Alexander. I couldn't get enough of this story - at the beginning anyway. Yes, the foreplay is waaaay too long. But for historical setting (again, very accurate. Ms Simons is a native of St. Petersburg) and character attachment this is a recommended chick lit read. I was as invested in Tatiana and Alexander as I was in Diana Gabaldon's Claire and Jamie, if you are familiar with her Outlander series. Unfortunately my interest faded in the second installment. That early magic between the two protagonists just could not be sustained or repeated for me. Watch for Tatiana and Alexander to hit the big screen, or so the rumours say.

If you are reading this in Russia - Happy Victory Day to you. I wish I could express how much I enjoyed my visit to your country. Spasiba


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