This month, on August 19th, my mother turned eighty.
It’s an amazing milestone for anyone, but this woman has survived so many things….
Back in Crimea, Russia, during World War II, as a little nine-year-old girl, she and my grandmother evacuated and ran from the invading Nazi Germans all through middle Asia, not once but twice.
Crimea was repeatedly occupied by the invading German forces, and they could not return home and had to live on the road. They were semi-homeless for several years of the war, riding cargo trains packed with refugees, eating stale chunks of ration bread, getting sick with dysentery from starvation and rotten melons, sitting on the streets of strange towns on top of small bundles of all their earthly possessions, huddled and covered in blankets while Nazi airplanes bombed from overhead and bodies lay all around. Once they were even transported via battleship in the Black Sea, which was firing Katushas at the shore and the Germans there, and they had to sit on the deck right underneath the guns, and plug their ears!
And meanwhile, grandpa (Mom’s father) was fighting in the war from the very start (on the Southern Front, via Hungary, Poland, etc.). He was a captain of a tank division, and was only lightly wounded, and decorated during the siege of Stalingrad. Unfortunately, when the war was over, he was so changed, so traumatized, that, soon after his return home, he left my grandmother and his young daughter (my Mom) .
Here is the photo of my Mom, a 9-year old girl, which grandma sent to grandpa in a letter, while he was still fighting at the front. Her maiden name was something else, of course, but goodness, I am not going to post my mother’s maiden name on the internet.
Then, fast forward decades, and Mom survived the dreary soul-killing years of the Soviet Union during the Cold War, our immigration to the Middle East (Lebanon), then West (United States), various degrees of poverty and life difficulties, and recently, ovarian cancer.
Mom is a real trooper, and her name is Zinaida, from Greek, which means “daughter of Zeus,” and of course it’s “Zina” for short or, if you like, Xena—and yes, she is the Warrior Princess!
Which brings me to the fact that Mom gave me the mermaid.
Three years ago when I was coming up with the idea for my supernatural version of Persuasion, my mom had helped me brainstorm, and we came up with Pagan Persuasion: All Olympus Descends on Regency. This is how it happened:
My mother was a literature teacher back in Russia. And she knows classics like the back of her hand, and in many cases by heart (yes, I am not kidding! For example, she can recite Eugene Onegin in its entirety—it is written in rhyming verse as most Russian epic poetry is, which makes it easier, but still! She can recite stuff in plain prose too!).
But, despite her expert knowledge of literature, she had never before in her life seriously attempted creative writing.
However, she suddenly go this idea about three years ago, while we were still in California, in the middle of our foreclosure hell. And in the span of a week, she wrote a novella in Russian—a genuine Persuasion fan fiction, in which Captain Wentworth, on one of his many sea voyages implied by Jane Austen, sees from his passing ship a mermaid sunning herself on a rock combing her long hair, they have a magical conversation, and she basically convinces him to return to England and Anne Elliot.
I was amazed! The story was excellent, very well-written for someone who had never written before, and in fact I would love to publish it in Russian some time, as an ebook (the logistics of typing in Cyrillic is one problem I have to figure out) or even a paper edition.
Mom’s story deserves to be read!
In any case, this mermaid that my mom made up is going to be a character in Pagan Persuasion. The mermaid fits right into the Ancient Greek mythology theme, and besides, publishing industry rumor has it, mermaids are the latest hot supernatural thing these days (sparkling vampires are on their way out, together with YA dystopias, and boy wizards). For more fascinating mermaid speculation, see this article “Young Adult Fiction’s Hottest New Trend: Mermaids?” at io9.com
In fact, the upcoming book Pagan Persuasion is dedicated to my Mom—not just for giving me the mermaid, but for everything.
Happy 80th Birthday, Mom!
I think Jane Austen would approve.