By Ben G. Frank
Many love stories begin with a first look.
Before the age of the jet, many romances began on a train or at a station.
Who does not remember the great Russian novel, Anna Kareninaor the classic movie, Waterloo Bridge.
Stations have always been part of my family history.
One hundred years ago, my mother, Sonya, of blessed memory, left Odessa, Ukraine by train for Romania with her mother and sisters. They were refugees. They did not want to be part of the Russian Bolshevik Red Army, just as today’s Ukrainian refugees do not want to live under a conquering Russian army.
Growing up, I often heard the story of their escape, especially when the adults got together. In low voices, my mother and her sisters were talking about their brother Mischa, who had disappeared. They believe he fled to the army. We never heard from him again.
I dug deeper into the family history and after years of talking with loved ones I began to tell their story in what has become my Clara Trilogy.
Clara’s Journey was the first of three books of historical fiction, each independent of the other. This debut novel is a gripping saga of the Russian Civil War, much of it set in present-day Ukraine, and involves the journey of the older sister, Klara, who leaves the family and crosses Siberia to find herself. go to the United States to find his father. .
Clara’s War, the second in the trilogy, finds Klara’s niece fleeing Ukraine when the Nazis invade Russia. Its story ends during the turbulent post-war era of Israel’s independence in 1948.
And then I wrote the fresh out, Klara’s brother and the woman he lovedthe last of Clara Trilogy. But I never thought my new work of historical fiction, including lots of material about Ukraine being invaded by Russia, would be so timely.
Indeed, as I write this article, I am watching Ukrainians fleeing their homeland on television. The presenter reports that Odessa, this magnificent port on the Black Sea.
To write this family story, I had to go to Odessa. I walked the streets of the city and admired its buildings, designed in a neo-classical architectural style, including the beautiful yellow and white local mansions, many of which display a Mediterranean theme.
I visited Proharovskaya Street where my family lived. I wonder if the building will still stand if the Russians reach it during this 2022 invasion.
I move along Primorsky Blvd. at Nikolaevsky Blvd. to inhale the “spicy aroma of acacia trees” suspended above the bustling city harbor and the famous 240 steps of Odessa
At the top of the steps stands the statue of the Duke of Richelieu dressed in a Roman toga; he is known as Armand Emmanuel du Plessis, 5th Duke of Richelieu, a French émigré, who served as governor of Odessa from 1803 to 1814. Henceforth, the “stone duke” referred to all who arrived in his beloved city, Putin’s Russians, excluded.
And that’s where stations come in, especially in Klara’s brother and the woman he loved.“I’m heading for the Odessa-Holovna station. It was built in the second half of the 19and century, damaged in 1944 and rebuilt in 1952. I decide to start the love story of the novel here. We are in 1919. The tsar has been dethroned. The democratic government that succeeded it was deposed by the revolutionary Russian Bolsheviks, commonly known as the Reds. Opposed to them are the Whites, former officers of the Tsarist army and Cossacks. Mischa, a Bolshevik begins as a member of the Communist Red Guard, becomes an agent of the Chekist secret police and is promoted to Commissar.
In the station, Mischa, trying to board a train, is pushed to the ground by an unruly mob trying to escape the city. He can’t get up. So he sits down and raises his hands, hoping someone will grab them and lift him up. Within seconds, his arms are gripped and his body pulled up by the strong but gentle hands of a beautiful young woman facing him. Both are happy with what they see in each other.
So begins this tumultuous story. From the moment Commissar Mischa Rasputnis kisses Basya Abramskaya, a Soviet spy, the fate of the couples is pitted against the Kremlin secret police who warn the couple never to communicate with each other again. Torn from the arms of his beloved, Mischa often dreams that he sees Basya in the sunflower fields of Ukraine. Will their love endure years of separation?
In closing this article, I move on to the news. “It’s quiet in Odessa now. But we expect the worst,” a Ukrainian official told the BBC. Looks like Mischa who in Klara’s brother and the woman he lovesD, asked: “What is the end of the game.”
Ben G. Frank, a former Chappaqua resident, is a journalist, lecturer, and author of books on Russia and Ukraine, including the just-released historical novel, Klara’s brother and the woman he loved. He now resides in Palm Beach County, Florida. Ben Frank’s books are available wherever books are sold.