Karen's Reviews > Dancing Under the Red Star: The Extraordinary Story of Margaret Werner, the Only American Woman to Survive Stalin's Gulag

Dancing Under the Red Star by Karl Tobien
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Jun 25, 08

bookshelves: memoir, russian, ww2
Read in June, 2008

** spoiler alert ** Margaret's son puts into writing his mother's story, using her voice / point of view. The book presents remarkable detail of her more than 30 years experience outside the US, nearly 10 of which were spent in a Stalin GULAG. In short, I found this account filled with stunning examples of how human beings can enact great horrors or great heroics when placed in extraordinary circumstances.

In the late 1930s, Margaret's father took a job in Russia through Ford Motor Company in an attempt to escape the crushing poverty of the US Depression. Once they were settled in Gorky, it was apparent they were in worst shape than before. A few years later, Margaret's father was arrested, and Margaret herself followed a few more years thereafter. She was transfered a few places, but spent most of her time as a political prisoner in a harsh work camp / death camp (a GULAG). Even after her release, she still spent several years and several layers of red tape trying to return to America.

After reading this book, I am stunned by how many freedoms and luxuries I enjoy daily when other past and present struggle under tyranny, war, disease and poverty. I have never read anything but detached, impersonal historical accounts of Stalin's regime. It's incredible to think that hundreds, thousands -- really millions -- of people suffered similar conditions as those to which Margaret bears witnesses. It's clear that her determination, athleticism, and intellect aided her greatly. She also credits her mother's strong Christian faith to her ultimate release and their reunion.

Margaret's narrative I found quite compelling, but her son adds a few post-scripts, which jump from narrative to exhortation. I have to admit that I liked those less. I'm a big advocate of "show don't tell" in memoirs, and these last little bits had too much telling.

Overall, and insightful look into one individual's horrible journey in and out of Communist Russia in the 1940s and 1950s. An inspirational account of human triumph. May we all work to overturn and prevent this kind of tyranny in the world.
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Comments (showing 1-3 of 3) (3 new)

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message 1: by Francelle (new)

Francelle
I just might read this one. Just finished Winds of War this morning, and now I'm ready for some Stalin. Any good reads about Mussolini and WWII era for Italians? I'm researching real life Italians right now, one who served in the Navy under Mussolini. His sons all served in the U.S. Navy later. Winds of War gave me some empathy for that.




Karen Oh, I haven't read that many history books. I am a bit out of my league here. Do you know any history teachers? They might have a recommendation. Sorry but I'm out of my depth on WW2 books really fast. I used to read a lot of philosophy, literature and such but now I'm turning for the first time to history and other nonfiction works.


message 3: by Francelle (new)

Francelle You should read Winds of War, then. It's pretty light, a real family story. There's plenty of romance and a spiritual message, along with the historical insights, which helped me flesh out what I'm learning in history books. The characters, especially the main character, a patriot and middle-aged father, was very real. Intelligent writing, I thought.


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