Monday, March 9, 2015

"Above Us Only Sky"

Michele Young-Stone is the author of the novels Above Us Only Sky and The Handbook for Lightning Strike Survivors, which The Boston Globe called “an exceptionally rich and sure-handed debut.”

Young-Stone applied the Page 69 Test to Above Us Only Sky, her first novel, and reported the following:
From page 69:
Less than a month after the Old Man went into hiding from the Russians, the Nazis came to the front door of the Straż house. They informed the Straż family that they needn’t pack anything. They wouldn’t be gone long, just long enough to register as Jews. There were public documents testifying to their Judaism, and additionally, their neighbors had reported them as Soviet sympathizers.

They were certainly Jewish, but first and foremost, the Straż family was Lithuanian.

The Gestapo found Frederick in the basement, and grabbing him by his overcoat, pulled him up the stairs. He wasn’t registering with the others. They already knew who he was, and he wasn’t a Jew. They seemed to know everything. It was unnerving. One of the Nazis, a man twice Frederick’s age, punched him playfully in the arm. “You hid among the vermin.”
Page 69 embodies a fundamental dilemma in my novel. What is a nation to do when they are being passed back and forth between two madmen, Stalin and Hitler? Which, if either, is a lesser evil?

Lithuania has been chastised and has made formal apologies since their independence in 1991 for their participation in the Holocaust. One of the issues raised in my novel is that for many of them, the Germans seemed far more rational than the Soviets and their Red Army. The Lithuanian people had a history of being invaded by the Russians, and by 1941, hundreds of thousands of Lithuanians had been murdered by the Soviets, and those who were not outright killed were deported to Siberian gulags where they learned, “Work is an honor.” This is the message that met many of the prisoners as they passed through the barbed wire gates of the prison camps. They would be worked to death under the most severe conditions.

I recently met a man who lived through this battle between Stalin and Hitler. He remembers the Russians and Germans fighting, bullets flying through the pine forests, the sound they made, a sort of kerplunk when they landed in the surrounding lakes. As a young boy, he knew that they were fighting over who would rule his country. If the Germans won, the Nazis would liquidate the Jews and anyone else they saw fit. If Stalin won, the extermination would be based on who was educated and who owned land. Mostly… Or a person may just be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

There was no lesser evil.

Above Us Only Sky is a novel about survival, about the Vilkas family, how they birthed bird girls, and how an American girl, Prudence Vilkas, born with wings, returns to a homeland she never knew was hers.
Learn more about the book and author at Michele Young-Stone's website, blog, and Facebook fan page.

The Page 69 Test: The Handbook for Lightning Strike Survivors.

My Book, The Movie: The Handbook for Lightning Strike Survivors.

Coffee with a Canine: Michele Young-Stone & Emma (May 2010) and Coffee with a Canine: Michele Young-Stone & Emma Peel and Chauncey.

Writers Read: Michele Young-Stone.

--Marshal Zeringue