Our Backs Warmed by the Sun: Memories of a Doukhobor Life – the 2020 debut of Slocan Valley author Vera Maloff – is this week’s Kootenay book pick. The gripping saga of both a family and a community, it is a valuable addition to the fascinating – and often tragic – historical record of our diverse valley. Here’s more from publisher Caitlin Press:
“For many, the Doukhobor story is a sensational one: arson, nudity and civil disobedience once made headlines. But it isn’t the whole story. Our Backs Warmed by the Sun: Memories of a Doukhobor Life is an intricately woven, richly textured memoir of a family’s determination to live in peace and community in the face of controversy and unrest.
“When author Vera Maloff set out to find the truth about her family’s history, she knew something of the struggles of living a pacifist, agrarian life in a world with opposing values. To find the bones of that history she turned to her mother Elizabeth, who, in her nineties, had forgotten nothing.
“In Our Backs Warmed by the Sun, the author, through the stories of her mother, describes a wholly activist life. The Doukhobors—both the Sons of Freedom and moderate sects—led anti-military protests throughout the early 1900s, harboured draft dodgers in the 60s, and stood up for their beliefs. In response, they were hosed down, arrested, and jailed.
“Vera learns of the confusion and fear when, as a child, Elizabeth and her family were interned in an abandoned logging camp while their father served time in Oakalla prison for charges related to a peaceful protest, and of her loneliness when, later, she was institutionalized—one of a series of Canadian government efforts in assimilation. By removing the children, it was believed, the cycle of protest and resistance could be broken.
“Tracing the Doukhobor movement from Russia, the author explores the spiritual influence of its leaders. She does not shy away from the controversial actions of the Sons of Freedom in the darkest days of bombings and arson, or the toll on families and communities, probing with a historian’s curiosity and a daughter’s tenderness.
“Elizabeth’s story is also one of a small but thriving Kootenay community, and of the experiences of a family who stood by their beliefs. Laughter, ingenuity and tenacity are offered up in the pages of Our Backs Warmed by the Sun, an important and engaging window into our collective history.”