The Kulak’s Daughter by Gabriele Goldstone
Publisher: Blooming Tree Press
Length: Full Length (288 pgs)
Genre: Historical Fiction
Age Recommendation: 14+
Rating: 5 Suns
Reviewed by Dandelion
Olga likes little things - especially the tiny apples in the orchard in the spring, or her baby brother's little toes. But when her family is labeled 'Kulak' and exiled to Siberia, she starts to hate little things - especially the bedbugs that overrun the barrack at night, or the lice that carry the dreaded typhus. Suddenly Olga's little world is overwhelmed by Stalin's big plans.
Though this is a story that is more heartbreaking than anything else, it is also beautifully written, a tale that highlights the plight of families called “kulaks” under the Stalin administration in the early 1930s. These families, who were considered threats to the new government because they refused to turn over their farms to become collectives, were exiled to transition camps, work crews, and other temporary barracks around the country. Olga, the eleven-year old main character in The Kulak’s Daughter, finds herself and her family one of the many who end up at Yaya, a Siberian transition camp, in 1930.
The beginning of the story, though, takes place on Olga’s family farm, where she lives a simple, enjoyable life with her parents and siblings, her school friends, and her beloved pet dog. It is only as the Soviet government changes – and her father’s beliefs do not – that all is torn away from her. The barracks where she ends up spending miserable months bear a stark resemblance to the Nazi concentration camps during World War II, and Goldstone does an excellent job of painting a bleak picture of this reality in a manner that’s still appropriate for its middle grade target audience. The minor characters are all well developed, from Olga’s little sisters to her brother Albert to the quirky but lovable Sasha, who befriends her at Yaya. Goldstone’s details bring to life the darkness and desolation of a place where lice and typhus ran rampant, and where trying to maintain some kind of hope and dignity was almost impossible.
The fact that this book is based on a true story makes it even more heart-wrenching. It is a gem of a historical novel, and I recommend it highly. While it isn’t all sad and depressing – hang in there for an uplifting ending – the Historical Note at the end suggests that Olga’s character faced much more in the years that followed her time at Yaya. I do hope that this author is planning a second novel about those years, because I will definitely read it.
If you do not know anything about this period in history – and I did not – you will find a true education in The Kulak’s Daughter of what happened to millions of Russian families under the Stalin regime in 1930/1931. Bravo to Gabriele Goldstone for bringing this story to life!