When Canadian journalist Stephanie Williams set out to discover her Russian grandmother’ s long-lost history, what she unearthed was this stunning, sprawling portrait of a life lived on the grand stage of the 20th century.
Born in remote Siberia in 1900, Olga Yunter was the youngest of five children. As a teenager during the Revolution, she was a courier and arms-runner for the White Russians. After learning of the execution of her brother at the hands of the Red Army, which drew nearer every day, her father sent her to China with rubies and gold sewn into her petticoats. She would never see her family again. The life of a Russian exile in China meant poverty and fear. But Olga was lucky. She met and married Fred Edney, and gave birth to their daughter, Irina, the author’s mother. But the creeping Japanese occupation and invasion of China forced Olga to flee with Irina to Canada, leaving Fred behind to continue working. For five years she heard almost nothing of her husband, save that he was alive in a Japanese prison camp. At the end of the war she returned to China to find him broken by his internment. The family was driven out of the country for good by the Chinese Revolution in 1949. They settled in Oxford, where Olga and Fred lived out the rest of their days.
Drawing on letters, diaries, government documents, and interviews, Stephanie Williams brings to life this gripping historical drama, sweeping in scope and illuminated by the intimate details of one woman’s extraordinary life.
Stephanie Williams was born in Canada and has lived in the United States, Hong Kong, and England, where she worked as a journalist for such publications as The Sunday Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the New Statesman. She lives in North London… More about Stephanie Williams
“In re-creating Olga’s Story, Stephanie Williams has managed to do something I would have thought impossible: she has given us a new vantage point from which to view the turbulent and often hellish years of the first half of the twentieth century. Born in 1900 to a loving and prosperous family in Siberia, Olga saw her world and family shredded in the murderous fighting between the Reds and the White Russians that followed the Bolshevik revolution. She survived by moving first to Vladivostok, and thence to Tianjin, in northern China, and to Shanghai. After the Japanese had wiped out those Chinese havens, she found a measure of peace first in western Canada and finally at Oxford. This is a beautifully written and subtly crafted book. Olga’s Story leaves one awestruck at how much human beings can witness and experience, without losing their bearings altogether.” —Jonathan Spence, Yale University, author of The Death of Woman Wang and The Memory Palace of Matteo Ricci