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A Woman in Amber.

A Woman in Amber

Agate Nesaule


ISBN: 0140261907 $14.00 288 pages

Being of Latvian heritage myself, perhaps it is impossible for me to read Nesaule's book as anyone else of a different heritage might. I have grown up on stories that are but variations on a theme to this one. My first language was Latvian, my first book was Latvian, my own first efforts in creative writing were in the Latvian language. Indeed, I have just participated in a literary reading of Latvian authors at the 11th Latvian Song Festival in Chicago, Illinois, where I had the honor of sharing the podium with Agate Nesaule. Is it possible for me to turn the pages of "Woman in Amber" without a deeply ingrained bias? Perhaps not. But I can say that these pages, these words, these memories, resonated profoundly with me. The war experience in many ways, however, is a suffering and a horror that crosses all lines of ethnicity, all borders of nationality. For this reason, I believe this is an important account for a far larger audience than just the Latvian reader; I am thrilled that this book was written first in English, then translated into, I believe, seven other languages.

Latvia is a tiny but beautiful country on the coast of the Baltic Sea. The Latvian language is one of the oldest still in existence. The country's history is one of the most war-torn and ravaged of any country anywhere--although it has existed for many, many centuries, Latvia has been independent, free of occupation by other armies, for only a wink in time. If this nation can be proud of anything, it can be proud of its ability to survive even the cruelest and most oppressive conditions. This memoir, "Woman in Amber," opens a small window of light shed on how such a people survive. Even more precisely, it gives an account of how a very young girl can survive--losing her home, losing her family, conditions of hunger, rape, pillage, exile, and the terrifying experience of being a stranger in an immense and completely alien country where the culture and language are all new and strange. Most memoirs of war and battlefields are written by men. It is particularly interesting to read a different kind of account, from the perspective of a woman. If soldiers on a battlefield suffer, there is a quieter, less evident suffering that happens behind the front lines, and this memoir reveals, painfully and movingly, the no less violent and scarring battles that happen there.

Agate Nesaule's memoir is a couragous sharing of the experiences she endured--not just during World War II, but for many years following the war. Long after the sounds of war have died down, the wounds are still bloodied and pulsating with pain. Healing can often take a lifetime. My respect to this author for sharing her experience, and my hope that it has offered her healing. This is a book I am proud to recommend to both my Latvian friends as well as my non-Latvian friends.
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Author:Aistars, Zinta
Publication:Reviewer's Bookwatch
Article Type:Book Review
Date:May 1, 2005
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