With Dance Shoes In Siberian Snows

BOOK REVIEW by Willard Manus

Latvia has always been a mystery to most of us in the West, a Baltic state whose history isn't much taught in our schools. Now comes a book that should correct our ignorance: WITH DANCE IN SIBERIAN SNOWS, by Sandra Kalniete, a woman who was born in a Siberian village in 1952 to Latvian parents who had been banished there by the Soviet regime in the early days of WW II.

Latvia, as the book shows, had been a thriving, democratic state until the outbreak of war and the Russians demanded that the Latvians allow them to build army bases on their territory, under the rationale of protecting them from the Nazis. The gullible Latvians opened the door and let the Bolsheviks in. The result was a fifty-year occupation that reduced a proud, affluent country to a pathetic puppet state whose inhabitants were viciously exploited and abused by their masters.

Because her parents were educated, bourgeois and "nationalistic," they were deemed class enemies and not only had their property confiscated but were transported by cattle car (shades of the Nazis!) to a Siberian gulag. The author's mother was not even allowed to pack a pair of warm shoes, but was expected to survive freezing temperatures in the ballet slippers she happened to be wearing when the Cheka (KGB) arrested her. Hence the title of the book.

Kalniete eloquently describes the horrors that befell her entire family--not to speak of fifteen thousand other Latvians--at the hands of the Russians. She has devoted many years of her life to research and document her country's tragic history. To read this book is to lose any lingering illusions one might have about communism. It was, as Kalniete so eloquently and convincingly proves, a vicious and criminal enterprise from top to bottom.

(Dalkey Archive Press)