Marie Kramer’s Aurora: A Wartime Love Story stumbles in the early pages and never quite recovers. However, the based-on-a-true-story tale is still a valuable addition to the small but growing English-language literature on the plight of Latvian Displaced Persons.
Aurora tells the story of young Aurora and her love for a military man, Alfreds, whose lives are brought together and split apart during and after the Second World War.
At least two serious historical errors—mistakes that could have been checked with a number of published sources—cloud the credibility of the story. This is not a minor point, for Kramer is otherwise careful to cite specific dates when events occur in the life of Aurora. In addition, the book at times rushes forward without smooth transitions, leaving the reader with the sense of watching a badly edited movie. Finally, we don’t get much of a "love story" here.
Where we find value in Aurora is in its vivid description of refugee life, particularly given that the story is told through the eyes of a young married mother whose husband is somewhere back in Latvia battling the Soviet army. Latvians of the postwar generations already know variations on this story, for they have heard snippets of it from their parents and grandparents. But to read it, in English no less, is a new experience. Aurora joins historical studies such as Mark Wyman’s DPs: Europe’s Displaced Persons, 1945-1951 and memoirs such as Agate Nesaule’s A Woman In Amber in bringing to life what happened to thousands of Latvians a half century ago.
We are introduced to Aurora as a 17-year-old young woman celebrating Jāni, or Midsummer, on June 24, 1940. Her giddiness is interrupted by the appearance of a column of Soviet military vehicles, the full weight of which is made clear to her the following day by her uncle, who tells her that the USSR has taken over Latvia.
The problem here is that the Soviet Union had already invaded Latvia a week earlier. For Aurora not to have known a week later that her country was no longer free is hard to believe. In both published reports and from anecdotal evidence, we know that by June 24 it was clear that the Soviets were in control and that the Jāni celebrations in 1940 were dampened by this knowledge.
Then, on page 32, Kramer tells us about the deportations of June 14, 1941. She writes that "half a million Latvians were arrested, herded into boxcars and shipped to Siberia." Not so! For example, in The Baltic States: Years of Dependence, 1940-1980 by Romuald J. Misiuanas and Rein Taagepera, the authors note:
The general estimates of population losses from all causes—deportations, mobilizations, massacres, and unexplained disappearances during the first year of Soviet rule—hover around…35,000 for Latvia…
Even if we add the post-war deportations, including the devastating ones of 1949, we still don’t reach half a million Latvians.
These errors aside, we find two other problems with Aurora. First, there’s the matter of transitions. Granted, Kramer covers a span of 50 years in 185 pages, so some fast forwarding is necessary. But at times the transitions are too abrupt and beg for the caring hand of a good editor.
Second, the overall premise that this is a love story needs questioning. In the first third of the book, we see the development of Aurora’s and Alfreds’ love for each other. But in the remainder of the story, Alfreds fades into the background. Either Aurora is not a love story but instead a story about survival, or the author needed to devote more effort in helping the reader appreciate the depth of these two Latvians’ love for each other.
Where Aurora is the most compelling is in its description of a young refugee mother’s struggle to care for her baby and her own mother in Germany, England and, finally, America. The hardships Aurora and her family endure—all the while not knowing the whereabouts of Alfreds—offer some of the most touching moments in the book. Wyman, in his DPs, remarks how the Displaced Persons camps are often remembered fondly by those refugees who lived there as children. They didn’t realize the sacrifices parents made for their children. Aurora confirms this.
Aurora is the first book by Kramer for Kansas-based Ogden Publications. Kramer, a retired teacher, has published other titles similar to Aurora, tales based on people’s true stories.
(Editor’s note: This article originally appeared on the SVEIKS.com site.)
Aurora: A Wartime Love Story
Topeka, Kansas: Ogden Publications Inc., 1998
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