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Stormi's Review: My Sister’s Mother: A Memoir of War, Exile, and Stalin’s Siberia by Donna Solec


PUBLISHER: University of Wisconsin Press

RELEASED: April 27, 2016


LENGTH: 312 pages








Donna Solecka Urbikas grew up in the Midwest during the golden years of the American century. But her Polish-born mother and half sister had endured dehumanizing conditions during World War II, as slave laborers in Siberia. War and exile created a profound bond between mother and older daughter, one that Donna would struggle to find with either of them. In 1940, Janina Slarzynska and her five-year-old daughter Mira were taken by Soviet secret police (NKVD) from their small family farm in eastern Poland and sent to Siberia with hundreds of thousands of others. So began their odyssey of hunger, disease, cunning survival, desperate escape across a continent, and new love amidst terrible circumstances. But in the 1950s, baby boomer Donna yearns for a “normal” American family while Janina and Mira are haunted by the past. In this unforgettable memoir, Donna recounts her family history and her own survivor’s story, finally understanding the damaged mother who had saved her sister.


Janina and her young daughter Mira face the horrors of war as they are made to leave their home and are sent to a labor camp. Donna, born after the war, hears the stories and wants the bond that her mother and sister have. For years she tries to understand them and the horrors they faced. They share a bond that she will never be a part of. She begins this memoir as a way to understand them and the reasons for her treatment from both her mother and sister.

I can say that this novel is gripping. A young girl trapped in a world that she shouldn't have to endure because of horrors that occurred to her sister and mother. She wants the bond with her mother, the love that is shown to her sister. I have a rocky relationship with my mother and so this book hit home in some ways. Of course, I never faced such horrors such as war, but it helps me understand Donna and her feelings. This book was well researched and full of history. It was very detailed and painted a picture of the war that was not pretty, but it helps the reader to understand how brutal it was for some people. I have never been big on reading memoirs, but this one really spoke to me.

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