When the mood strikes, I can inhale a book. Lately, I’ve adopted a habit of one daily chapter with my lunchtime tome. Or not so heavy, depends on what strikes me, also what’s good to read alongside a cream cheese bagel. Not everything is, but enough literature swirls so I am usually deep into some wonderful story or non-fictional curiosity. Right now the lunch read is Big Day Coming by Jesse Jarnow, a story about American indie music, but mostly about Yo La Tengo, one of my favorite bands. The last lunch read was Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami, a fabulous, lyrical lit fic wonderland. I took two chapters a day with that story, partially because chapters were short, and that I savored Mr. Nagata’s world set against Kafka’s, third and first POVs alternating perfectly.
But sometimes novels are read slowly because of the subject matter. I don’t shy away from dark books; those who forget history are condemned to repeat it. When I came across Andy Szpuk’s Sliding on the Snow Stone, I was a little hesitant, as I am a bit squeamish, but Andy noted the first chapter was the worst. Still, I was faffing around, taking a chapter every few days, trying to get my head around the Holodomor, genocide enacted against Ukrainians by the Soviets during the early 1930s. Then when World War II began, I ground to a halt. The book sat untouched for days, while I tended other tasks, read about Ira Kaplan and Georgia Hubley, founders of Yo La Tengo. Easier to immerse myself in the late 70s and early 80s indie rock scene than face Nazis invading Ukraine.
I’ll get back to Ira and Georgia today, but last night my husband’s snores rattled, leaving me restless. I got out of bed, then picked up my iPod. Andy’s book was waiting, or rather his father’s life, tucked into a tiny device no one in the 1940s would have imagined. But then, I have a hard time reconciling those years with my sedate, technology-crammed Silicon Valley world. Coming on seventy years since the end of the war, eighty since the Holodomor, those events feel far more ancient, or I just wish they were. Reading how the Soviets starved millions of Ukrainians, then how the Nazis were no better, I wondered how human beings can be so cruel, so brutal, so inhuman. Yet, mayhem exists right here today, perhaps not reaching those levels of wickedness, or maybe it’s just less ugly. Or that we see so much on TV and the internet, we are numb.
If you read Sliding on the Snow Stone, you won’t be left numb.
I finished the novel last night as my kids came and went, early twenty-somethings that while not ignorant of history, couldn’t fathom what Stefan endures. Well, my twenty-two-year-old son is a huge WWII buff, but it’s one thing to read about in the safety of 2012. It’s another to be there, where Andy Szpuk put me last night. I wasn’t on my sofa, ceiling fan whirring above me. I was trekking across Slovakia, trying to reach Germany, where Allied troops might take mercy on me. I was covered in lice and filth from weeks without a bath, so hungry, wondering where I was, would I see my home again. Feeling in the pit of hell, but, deep breath taken, a light shines, the tunnel ends. But as one chapter closes, another begins.
Our attention spans are so brief, surfing to the next site or show or… But just seventy years ago, which when a few decades are collected really isn’t that long a stretch, most of this planet fought an enormous war. Battles have raged since, and will continue, yet not with that much carnage and ferocity. I don’t mean the guns and bombs, but humans losing their humanity. Souls were stripped, leaving fellow beings to suffer. I’ll be glad when I sit in my sunny back garden in four hours, losing myself in young lovers trying to form a band. But when I finish, heading back into the house, I hope I say a prayer of thanks; for Andy having written this book, for his father having survived those atrocities. And that in my lifetime, hearts will grow less hard. And that someone will read Sliding on the Snow Stone and find their own soul stirred.