When you spend years researching and writing about a topic, your sensitivities about it become heightened. You notice every time it comes up in the news or in conversation. After a while you also catch on if other people seem to know nothing about it.
That’s the situation I’m in. My novel, The Songs We Hide, is set in Hungary after World War II, during its harshest period of Stalinist communism. As I was researching, writing and editing the book, my mind wrestled daily with the realities of that period, not only in Hungary but in the whole Soviet bloc: arrests for frighteningly trumped-up charges, deportations, forced relocations, property confiscations, political executions, and a network of snitching that resulted in all-pervasive fear. As part of my research I talked with Hungarians who lived through this terrifying time. Sixty years after leaving Hungary, these people are still deeply affected by what they endured. I in turn was emotionally affected as I put my characters into that painful milieu–and in a way that only writers understand, I ended up “living there” too.
So it’s with sad frustration that I’ve noticed how the historic suffering of the Soviet bloc countries is simply “off the radar” for most Americans now. Hitler’s massive cruelty is still a hot topic in movies and novels. Stalin’s massive cruelty is not. When people read my novel, they often tell me, “I just didn’t know that the people over there went through all that.” Well, they did go through it. Over and over.
I recently read an article in The Economist (Feb. 2, 2019) about the Baltic countries–Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. The article contained this statement: “Discussions of history [in the Baltics] often start with the phrase ‘Stalin murdered my grand-parents.'” Yes. The terrible pain was acknowledged. But The Economist is a British publication. Unless I’m missing a lot, U.S.journals don’t report on eastern and central Europe much. When they do, little historical perspective is given.
I can’t change this. But I wish it were different. It seems we have forgotten the persecution of half a continent., and that feels very wrong to me.