Vintage reads: The Endless Steppe

Last updated 05:00 16/08/2014

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The endless Steppe by Esther Hautzig 

This is a children's book based on the author's own experiences of being transported to Siberia as a 10-year-old during the Second World War.

Esther lived in Vilna in Poland and was deported by the Russians because her family were viewed as ''class enemies'' by the Soviet forces occupying Poland.

She came from a comfortable home and her family was also Jewish.

First she endures a terrible journey in a cattle car packed with many others to a destination unknown. Once there she experiences cold of the Siberian variety, hunger, forced labour in the potato fields and a lack of basics, like warm coats.

All this is made more compelling by the simple fact that it's true.Despite her trials Esther is a delightful girl with a hopeful nature.

She could even be quite ordinary, being a bit moody, wanting to fit in at school and having her first crush on a boy. These things help us to identify with her even if we can't with her situation.

What endeared me to her though and made her a permanent favourite, was an incident at the market where she was selling a beloved book by Turgenev to raise money for food.

A Russian peasant looked at it long and hard, fingering the pages with his gnarled hands, complaining that the pages were too thin.

She defended the book saying the print was clear and that he would definitely enjoy the book. He laughed and said the book was not for reading but for smoking! She yanked the book from him and doubled the price, whereupon he started yelling at her. So she ran from the market as fast as she could with the book safely in her clutches. I adore this girl!

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- Waikato Times


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