Book review: A Chill Wind Blows

A Chill Wind Blows ----- by Jack Limes (Austin Macauley, 2016) [Photograph by Edith-Mary Smith]

A Chill Wind Blows —– by Jack Limes (Austin Macauley, 2016) [Photograph by Edith-Mary Smith]

The Second World War ended more than seventy years ago and there is no shortage of photographs of jubilant crowds celebrating the liberation of cities such as Brussels or Paris. The German occupation was over. The Nazis had left. Yet for cities such as Warsaw, Minsk, or Smolensk, although the ousting of the Nazis represented victory after a horrific struggle, there was no liberation of the kind that was experienced in Western Europe. In the East, the tyranny of Hitler’s Nazis was replaced by the tyranny of Stalin and by decades of Soviet repression. Life under the Soviets is the subject of the recent novel A Chill Wind Blows by Jack Limes (Austin Macauley Publishers, 2016).

The novel begins in 1929, near the onset of Stalin’s collectivization program in which individual ownership of tracts of lands was forcibly phased out in favour of large ‘collective farms’ which were owned by the state. Love and its ability to survive in the most brutal of surroundings is the theme of A Chill Wind Blows.

Yuri Kazakof is a peasant: he works the land on his father’s tiny farm. Existence is hand to mouth. Yuri is powerfully built and he is a fighter in the fullest sense: he knows how to use his fists (and play chess, too!). Nadya Reinhardt is destined to become the love of his life. She is “a beautiful young woman of eighteen with long black hair and intense brown eyes.” She lives with her family in Leningrad and is studying violin at the Academy of Arts. Her father, Gustav, lectures on politics at the university and he is German by birth. His country of origin will eventually pose a problem.

However, it is not Nadya’s father Gustav, but Yuri’s father, Ivan Kazakof, who first falls victim to state oppression. For his connection to a protest meeting, he is sentenced to the gulag for twenty-five years—by command of the new local commissar, General Nikita Sidorov. Since they are related to a ‘criminal,’ Yuri’s family is thrown off their farm. (Later, in a telling act of compassion that stands out in the dehumanizing world that Limes has painted, Ivan forgives the neighbour that brought the original accusation.)

General Nikita Sidorov is a credible villain and there would have been thousands exactly like him: self-serving, ruthless, with no regard for justice or human life. At this stage of the novel, Yuri has been smitten by Nadya and is deeply in love. (Think Lady Chatterley’s Lover: a workingman in a relationship with an upper/middle-class young woman, but postpone the sex till later.) Yuri’s life is laid out for him and he has three quests: free his father, marry Nadya, and kill Sidorov.

In June 1941, Germany invaded the Soviet Union and Hitler entered into a competition with Stalin for who could kill the most of the Soviet Union’s hapless citizens. Being German, Nadya’s father is arrested and the family is evicted from their Leningrad apartment.

After a series of arrests and escapes, Yuri and Nadya find each other in Leningrad at the worst time imaginable: the German army has the city surrounded. The siege of Leningrad would last for 872 days and more than a million people would die from bombs, bullets, shells, or starvation. This is not the place to disclose the fate of the lovers or of Nikita Sidorov but only to say that A Chill Wind Blows offers a window on a terrible time in history. Readers will find the content informative and moving.

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