18 May 11 | Chad W. Post

The latest addition to our Reviews Section is a piece by Jessica LeTourneur on Sandra Kalniete’s With Dance Shoes in Siberian Snows, translated from the Latvian by Margita Gailitis and available from Dalkey Archive Press.

This book is part of Dalkey’s “Baltic Literature Series,” and is one of the rare nonfiction hardcovers that they’ve published. It’s also one of maybe three works translated from Latvian and published in the U.S. over the past few years.

Jessica LeTourneur is one of our frequent reviewers, despite being a Cubs fan. She studied literature, history, and journalism at the University of Missouri, and attended New York University’s Publishing Institute in 2005. In the past, Jessica has worked as a journalist, as well as at The Missouri Review, the University of Missouri Press, and W. W. Norton & Company. Currently, Jessica is the copyeditor for the journal Southern California Quarterly, and is finishing up her Master’s degree in History and Scholarly Publishing at Arizona State University.

Here’s the opening of her review:

With Dance Shoes in Siberian Snows is an ambitious and uniquely constructed work of literary nonfiction. Published as a part of the Baltic Literature Series by Dalkey Archive Press, this moving and eloquent book tells the story of author Sandra Kalniete’s Latvian family, and the harrowing hardships they endured over the course of fifty years and three occupations—longer than any other European nation experienced in the twentieth century. In telling her family’s story, Kalniete also tells the story of Latvia’s twentieth-century history, illuminating an often-neglected, largely ignored, nation’s struggles with the twin plagues infecting Europe in the twentieth century: communism and fascism. At first glance a family memoir, With Dance Shoes in Siberian Snows is so much more than a personal memoir. It is a literary and historical tour de force whose searing indictment of Nazi Germany’s and the Soviet Union’s policies of terror and oppression teaches readers that while these policies may have broken human bodies, it could not break the bonds of family.

Sandra Kalniete was born in 1952 to Latvian parents who had been permanently exiled to Siberia. In 1957 she and her family were finally allowed to return to their home country, four long years after Stalin’s death in 1953. Kalniete’s bold prose and artistic narrative style convey the impression that she makes her living by her pen, and not her politics. In the 1980s and ‘90s Kalniete served as the Latvian Ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, France, and even to UNESCO. She became Latvia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs in 2002, and has since served as the first Latvian Commissioner of the European Union. Latvia’s present and future may reside in Kalniete’s professional life, but in her personal life, it is her country’s past which she takes to task, exploring the deepest recesses of her and her family’s memory in search of historical truths.

Click here to read the entire review.

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