In this edition of Knyzhka Corner, we look at two books for middle grade readers by Manitoba author Gabriele Goldstone.
Red Stone tells the story of Stalin’s cruel destruction of the kulak way of life during the 1930’s, through the eyes of eleven-year old Katya Halter. In the companion volume, Broken Stone, Goldstone picks up Katya’s story as she returns from Siberia to find strangers living in her home.
As Red Stone begins, Katya and her brother Albert are playing near the windmill on the family farm. She picks up a chunk of red granite which she carries with her for many years. It will become a symbol of her family’s prosperous past life when they lived in the village of Federofka about 35 kilometers northwest of Zhytomyr and an hour west of Kyiv in what is today Ukraine. Katya’s father is a successful farmer. These farmers were known as kulaks. However, Stalin has a plan to start collectivization, and his plans do not include the kulaks. In this chilling story of how quickly life can change, Katya and her family are forced to leave their home and travel to a labour camp in the Siberian Gulag. How will they survive the terrible conditions?
Broken Stone picks up Katya’s story after the family returns to their village of Federofka. Their Uncle Leo, a member of the Communist Party, has organized their release. At first, they stay with his wife, their Aunt Helena. However, Leo arranges for them to travel to East Prussia where their father’s relatives live. They have never met these relatives before, and they are terrified to leave their homeland. What will happen when they arrive in East Prussia? How long will they have to stay with these strangers?
Gabriele Goldstone’s novels represent a very personal journey. Red Stone, which was first published under the title The Kulak’s Daughter in 2010, is dedicated to her mother Else, “and the other kulak children.” In the introduction, readers are told, “This is a work of fiction, but the story of what happened to the kulaks is true.” As a child, Goldstone often heard stories about Stalin’s cruel treatment of the kulaks from her mother. She used these memories to create the courageous main character, Katya Halter. Goldstone also traveled to Ukraine to search through KGB files to fill in the details of her novels.
Even though Broken Stone continues the poignant story of Katya Halter, this novel can definitely stand on its own. It tells Katya’s story as a young adult struggling to keep her family together in the face of incredible loss and difficult circumstances. However, readers would be well advised to read the two novels in sequence because the stories are so powerful. Both novels are skillfully written with believable characters, interesting historical detail, and realistic situations.
Readers who are hoping for a portrayal of Ukrainian nationalism during Stalin’s oppression of the kulaks will be disappointed because the characters see themselves as Russians. Katia’s mother Matilde tells her sister, “Russia is our country now. My children were born here, just like you and me. We must focus on the here and now and adapt. We may be Germans, but we’re Russian Germans now.” (p. 3) However, these novels represent a powerful portrait of man’s inhumanity to man during Stalin’s reign of terror. Although these events happened long ago, Katya’s words still ring true for readers in today’s world, “You never know what will happen next. You can plan and hope and do all things right, and then a storm comes along.” (Red Stone, p. 1)
Gabriele Goldstone studied 20th century German literature at university. She wanted to read stories about her ancestors, but found that none were written. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Gabriele started investigating her mother’s family history and traveled to Ukraine in 2004. As a result of her research, she wrote the novel Red Stone. Red Stone was previously published as The Kulak’s Daughter in 2010. It received a Silver Moonbeam Award for historical fiction, and was included in Resource Links 2010 Year’s Best list for grades 7-12. In 2015, it was published in a new and improved version by Rebelight along with the sequel, Broken Stone. Gabriele Goldstone lives in Winnipeg, Manitoba.
Red Stone and Broken Stone are available at Chapters/Indigo and Amazon.
—Reviewed by Myra Junyk
Rebelight Publishing Inc., 2015. 149 p. ISBN 978-0-9939390-8-2
Rebelight Publishing Inc., 2015. 152 p. ISBN 978-0-9948399-2-3