(Cover picture courtesy of Goodreads.)
It is astonishing that anyone lived this story. It is even more astonishing that anyone survived it. Stefan grows up in the grip of a raging famine. Stalin’s Five Year Plan brings genocide to Ukraine – millions of people starve to death. To free themselves from the daily terrors of Soviet rule, Stefan and his friends fight imaginary battles in nearby woods to defend their land. The games they play are their only escape. ‘Sliding on the Snow Stone’ is the true story of Stefan’s extraordinary journey across a landscape of hunger, fear and devastating loss. With Europe on the brink of World War Two, Stefan and his family pray they’ll survive in their uncertain world. They long to be free.
[Full disclosure: Andy Szpuk sent me an ebook copy of his book in exchange for an honest review.]
I’m not a person that cries easily anymore, but this book had me in tears verging on hysterical sobs. The only reason I didn’t break down completely at some parts was because there was someone in the room. Had I been reading this while staying up alone in the evening, I would have been a complete mess.
Andy Szpuk wrote his father, Stefan’s, memoirs and I imagine that it was a hard story both to tell and hear. In my own experiences interviewing community members who came over from Europe before and after WWII, such discussions bring up a whole host of repressed emotions and long-forgotten memories; it’s difficult hearing about it from a virtual stranger, so I can’t imagine hearing the story from your own father. The horror of the Holodomor (death by hunger) in the Ukraine is so great that I honestly can’t believe that history has largely ignored it. It’s not nearly as well known as the horrors of the Holocaust, but it (and Stalin’s other atrocities) deserve at least equal recognition. What Stefan and his family went through is more than most of us can imagine and Andy Szpuk has brought those horrible years to life in terrifyingly realistic fashion.
I haven’t read many memoirs (considering how many books I’ve read overall), but Sliding on the Snow Stone is definitely one of my favourites, right up there with the possibly fake The Long Walk and My Hitch in Hell. Sliding on the Snow Stone is definitely aimed at adults, but is also an enjoyable read for teens interested in World War II.
I give this book 5/5 stars.