How researching one country’s history helps understand another

I was excited when I found several books at my local library on the Russian Revolution, including a few memoirs. I recently began to write a historical novel, set during the Russian Revolution and loosely based on the last couple of years of my maternal grandmother’s life.

As some of you are aware my grandparents, Paul and Olga Woronoff, were among the Russian aristocrats who escaped Russia during the Revolution. As a result they lost practically everything they owned. They did, however, have some amazing stories. Unfortunately, toward the end of her life, my grandmother suffered from Alzheimer’s and lived each day in her memories. When I visited her in the nursing home, she recognised that she should know me but really had no idea who I was. She was always very well-mannered and treated everyone with the same genteel politeness. I found it weird but slightly amusing to be treated in the same way as a perfect stranger.

My paternal side of the family, although not Russian, came from the Baltic States, which were at various times through their history, controlled by Russia. The Russian Revolution also effected this side of my family, as it was one of the catalysts for the Latvian War of Independence.

Back to my recent manuscript and, in order to uncover a variety of views and memories on the Russian Revolution, I have been trying to read as much as I can. I found the book, “Memories of a Lost World” by Tania Alexander. The back cover states, “Tania Alexander has written an unforgettable memoir of a world which now seems almost beyond our belief – the pre-revolutionary Russian era and all that followed.” I felt as if I had made a good choice.

Imagine how pleasantly surprised I was when I discovered that Alexander’s father was of the Baltic nobility, as was my father! Her father’s family came from Estonia, which is the only difference between us, as my father’s family came from Latvia. So we are both the products of a marriage between a Baltic German father and a Russian mother.

Alexander writes both about her mother’s journey through the revolutionary years and also how her father’s family coped during the same period. I could relate many of her stories to the ones I heard from my father. I did not know that Estonia had also endured a war of liberation around the same time as Latvia. It was certainly interesting to read Alexander’s firsthand accounts of those difficult times. This book has certainly made it easier for me to understand what was happening in the Baltic States and Russia at the time and how those in the nobility and aristocracy felt about it. Alexander was a child at the time which makes her account fascinating as, although it was written later in her life, it is a fresh take on the memoirs of the time.

Sometimes one can stumble across real gems when researching history and this is definitely one for me. I am lucky to have found it.

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This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Kirsten Mertens

    Sandy, very interesting! So you are writing a book now, it is amazing that you find
    books like the one from Tania Alexander even in Australia – so far away! What
    about the letters von Tante Ulla?

  2. Avatar photo

    Kirsten, have you read Tania
    Alexander’s book? It was so
    interesting. I will email you about
    Tante Ulla’s letters.

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