February 4–11, 1945. Yalta, a resort town on the Crimean Peninsula, Soviet Union. The Big Three are posing for a camera. Franklin D. Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, and Joseph Stalin. All smiling. Stalin, his head is half a turn away from the other two. A shrewd smirk is hiding behind his walrus mustache. He seems to be pleased. Why wouldn’t he be? The Big Three signed the agreement that will shape the fate of Europe and . . .
In 1941, Anna is sixteen, almost an adult yet still a child, craving independence and keen to become an operetta actress. Her rosy aspirations are disrupted by the war. When Krasnodar is taken by the Wehrmacht, she is one of the populace who are ordered to repair roads for the occupants’ trucks and cars and, in fall, to toil in the fields for the sake of sending the harvest to the enemy’s land. A dire event coerces her to go to Germany where she is auctioned as a slave worker.
Born in Berlin into an émigré Cossack family, young Zakhary is more interested in books and archeology than in the war that is raging through Europe, even less in the cause of his parents and their friends, which is to overthrow the Bolshevik regime in the Soviet Union and revert to Imperial Russia. He just doesn’t want to be a part of it. That is, until he finds himself among the Cossacks fighting alongside the Germans against the Allies.
In Italy, he meets Marishka, a young woman of Cossack heritage who fled the Soviet Union with other anti-Soviet Cossacks and departing German troops under the push of the Red Army. They fall in love and marry. And then, on June 1, 1945, Lienz happened.
After the war, a ghastly fate propels each of them to the merciless land where skies are leaden gray, frosts plunge below -60°C in winter, and the woods are impenetrable and so vast, there is no escape from there.
Anna and Zakhary carry with them their personal wounds, at the same time haunted by unbearable guilt, which they can’t undo or fix. In 1955, fate brings them together on an isolated peninsula of the Ob River, connected to one another in inextricably entangled ways they do not yet realize. More than a decade later, can they bury the cruel past and build a future for themselves in the country without Stalin but sealed behind the Iron Curtain?
This is their story, relived in one day.
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Marina Osipova was born in East Germany into a military family and grew up in Russia, where she graduated from the Moscow State Institute of History and Archives. When she was five, she decided she wanted to speak German and, years later, she earned a diploma as a German language translator from the Moscow State Institute of Foreign Languages. In Russia, she worked first in a scientific-technical institute as a translator, then in a Government Ministry in the office of international relations, later for some Austrian firms. For many years, she lived in New York, working in a law firm, and then in Austria for several years. In the spring of 2022, after spending ten months in Russia, some unfortunate world events brought her back to the United States.
A long-standing member of the Historical Novel Society, she is dedicated to writing historical fiction, especially related to WWII. Her books garnered numerous literary awards, including a 1st Place WINNER of the 2021 Hemingway Book Awards novel competition for 20th Century Wartime Fiction (a division of the Chanticleer International Book Awards). At some point or another, all her books hit the Amazon Top 100 lists in Historical Russian Fiction and Historical German Fiction and How Dare the Birds Sing even #1 or #2 in War Fiction in Canada, the UK, and Australia.
Her readers praise her books for “emotional realism,” for “taking on a subject that few authors have touched,” for “writing with heart and compassion while not holding back from hard cold realities of war,” for “giving an authentic and in-depth look at a culture that tends to baffle westerners.”
To learn more about Marina Osipova and her captivating books, visit her website at marina-osipova.com.
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Marina Osipova's "The Drau River Flows to Siberia: the Victims of Victory" is a hauntingly beautiful novel that traverses the depths of human experience during post-World War II Siberia. The author writes an intricate story that follows the lives of its two main characters in their respective timelines, revealing the lasting impact of war on its characters. The story begins as the haunting specter of the Gulag system looms large over the lives of former inmates Anna and Zakhary. Both have been recently released. As they stand on the banks of the Ob River, awaiting transportation, their intertwined stories are told, exposing the shocking chain of events that led them to the depths of Soviet imprisonment.
These two begin talking, and reminiscing about their past during the war.
What was next was digging the antitank ditches. Every day.
For ten to twelve hours. To stop the German Army.
The enthusiasm of the population was fueled by radio broadcasts from the loudspeakers attached to buildings’ walls or telegraph poles: “All to fight for our homeland!” “The enemy will not pass.” “Victory will be ours!”
The narrative gracefully interweaves between Anna and Zakhary, two characters bound by a shared history that is slowly unveiled throughout the book. Starting with a seemingly innocent decision to spend the summer of 1941 with her aunt Nina, desperate to escape the stifling expectations of her Party-conscious family, Anna’s life quickly spirals out of control. The invasion of the Germans obliterates Anna's dreams of a carefree summer, setting in motion a series of events that will define her fate. Anna's reflections on her past, from the hardships during the German occupation to her voluntary decision to join the Germans, are shown with raw and honest authenticity. Osipova delicately explores the emotional landscapes of her characters, allowing readers to connect intimately with their struggles, regrets, and hopes.
Hardly a minute later, there was the clinging of keys in the guard’s hand, the double-click of the lock, the screech of the metal door. “That’s not my cell,” Zakhary protested.
With “Shut up, fascist!” the soldier pushed Zakhary into the crowded cell.
All heads turned to him. The look of awareness in the eyes.
“I’m Zakhary Bukhanovsky. From Domanov’s Brigade.” In unison, from several mouths, came, “We are von Pannwitz’s people.” “We are from Vlasov’s troops.”
Zakhary looked around in anticipation, hoping to see familiar faces, and not finding any, went to the spot vacated by the prisoner who was taken away by the same sentry— the human conveyor in constant motion. He lowered himself down on the concrete floor.
Simultaneously, Zakhary reflects on his post-war experiences as a Cossack, recounting the pivotal moment when he and his unit, composed of exiled Cossacks, surrendered to the British. The promise of fair treatment and freedom from the clutches of the Soviet Union, a regime they deeply feared, fueled their decision. Zakhary, having survived the horrors of the war, makes a pivotal decision to surrender to the British with his unit of exiled Cossacks. His motivation extends beyond personal survival; he carries the responsibility for his wife and unborn son. The war's end offers Zakhary a glimmer of hope, a chance to build the life he envisions with his family.
However, the optimism is shattered as the Yalta Conference unfolds its treacherous outcome. The promise of safety is betrayed, and Zakhary finds himself thrust into the clutches of the Soviet Union. For both Anna and Zakhary, the peace deal struck at the Yalta Conference would seal their fate, leading them into the abyss of Soviet captivity.
The heart of Osipova's narrative lies in the revelation of a shocking historical truth—the deliberate agreement at the Yalta Conference to hand over Soviet POWs, forced laborers, and Cossacks to the merciless Soviet Union. The author skillfully navigates this shameful historical truth, shedding light on the complicity of the British and Americans in subjecting thousands to the horrors of the Gulag system, a truth that remains obscured in pop history. As a reader, we are invested in Anna and Zakhary’s stories, and this remains heartbreaking. These characters serve as symbols of the countless innocents who, having endured the traumas of war, found themselves ensnared in a new nightmare.
The novel seamlessly integrates historical events, providing a rich context for the characters' lives. From the end of World War II to the fate of Cossack officers, Osipova skillfully incorporates these historical realities, enhancing the horrifying yet immersive quality of the story. The depiction of Siberian labor camps is evocative and heartbreaking, capturing the harsh conditions and emotional toll on the characters.
The exploration of the impact of historical figures like Stalin, and the changing political climate of the Soviet Union adds context to the story and grounds it in familiarity for the reader. These elements contribute to the sense of realism, offering readers a profound reflection on the human condition in the face of adversity. The novel becomes a poignant exploration of love, loss, and the indomitable resilience of the human spirit.
Osipova's characters, particularly Anna and Zakhary, are beautifully written and developed in this character-driven narrative. As a reader, it is difficult to not be invested in their lives as we witness their struggles, triumphs, and ultimate survival in the face of unimaginable hardships.
The Drau River Flows to Siberia: the Victims of Victory is a compelling historical novel that blends personal stories with broader historical events. Marina Osipova's rich storytelling, authentic character portrayals, and raw honesty make this a must-read for those who appreciate the intersection of history and human experience. This is a novel that will leave a lasting impression on most readers, solidifying its place as a standout contribution to historical fiction.
“The Drau River Flows to Siberia: the Victims of Victory” by Marina Osipova receives five stars and the “Highly Recommended” award of excellence from The Historical Fiction Company
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