OLGA'S STORY: Three Continents, Two World Wars and Revolution—One Woman's Epic Journey Through the Twentieth Century

Stephanie Williams, Author . Doubleday $26 (368p) ISBN 978-0-385-50851-3

Williams remembers her grandmother Olga as a warm woman with a sense of humor, but also as a "formidable presence," with "an air of authority, a confidence in her own judgment." In this event-filled biography, Williams, who has been a journalist with the Sunday Times of London, tells of the turbulent life behind that imperious facade. Olga Yunter (1900–1974) had a childhood of relative comfort in her native Siberia, thanks to her father, an enterprising merchant who traded with China. But two of her brothers were killed for opposing the Bolsheviks, and for her own anti-Bolshevik activities she had to flee across the border to China, at the age of 20. There, to achieve some sense of security, she married a man she didn't love, but in 1938 had to flee again with her daughter, this time to Canada, to escape the brutal Japanese occupation. (Her husband, Fred, who was British, spent the war in Japanese prison camps.) Drawing on printed records, letters, memoirs and conversations with Olga and other family members, Williams succeeds in evoking pre–WWI Siberia and Tientsin, China. But despite her careful attention to the details of her grandmother's dramatic life, Williams doesn't dig down to Olga's personality or feelings, thus failing to bring Olga herself to life. Illus. Maps not seen by PW. Agent, Carlisle & Co. (June)

Reviewed on: 03/28/2005
Release date: 06/01/2005
Genre: Nonfiction
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