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Book Review - Among the Living and the Dead

A descendent of Latvian refugees, Inara Verzemnieks was raised in the US by her grandparents. Following the death of Livija, her beloved grandmother, Inara sets out to discover her roots in the hope she might “find her again in the old stories that still existed there.” In Latvia she visits her great-aunt Ausma for the first time. Over five years, she pieces together the sisters’ stories – how they lost each other during the Second World War and did not meet again for almost fifty years. Livija lived in a German refugee camp with her young family until they were allowed to travel to America. Her husband was treated with suspicion because he had been conscripted by the Nazis. Asuma also suffered the pain of exile as one of 41,000 Latvians sent to Siberia under Soviet order in March 1949.
Latvia’s history, Verzemnieks learns, is “cratered with epochs of loss and displacement.”  Her family are from Gulbene, a region shaped by centuries of migration and flight: “Once, the people who lived …