Without Vodka: Adventures in Wartime Russia

Aleksander Topolski, Author
Aleksander Topolski, Author Steerforth Press $16 (386p) ISBN 978-1-58642-012-3
Reviewed on: 12/04/2000
Release date: 12/01/2000
Hardcover - 424 pages - 978-0-9682926-0-0
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At the beginning of World War II, Soviet troops arrested Topolski, a 16-year-old Pole, as he tried to sneak over the border into Romania to join the free Polish Army. The ""adventures"" described here are the ones the author endured over the next two years, as he was shuttled through the Soviet Union's labyrinthine prison system. As Topolski explains, the prisons were an experience in multiculturalism, as Jewish, Ukrainian, Central Asian, Polish and Russian prisoners mixed with others from the Caucasus Mountains. In the prison hierarchy, Poles and Jews were generally more educated, while Armenians, Georgians and Central Asians were often considered untrustworthy thieves and sexual offenders. The author himself used cunning, talent--he was able to elevate his status by passing as a draftsman-- and faith to keep himself alive. ""Despite all that was going on around me, I held fast to my conviction that this was but a temporary reversal of fortune in my life."" Topolski, who now lives in Canada, strikes the right balance between despair and humor as he describes the life of a teenager battling to survive. He pulls no punches in depicting the violence and hunger that were parts of daily life, but divulges little bitterness about his time in captivity. Indeed, he even offers some philosophical thoughts. While the book displays an understandable anti-Soviet animus, what emerges is the conviction that individuals--whether guards or prisoners--can control their actions, even in the worst of situations. (Jan.)
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