This moving quotation is from an interview with a Russian writer who grew up in Siberia, born of a family which was politically exiled during the Soviet era, meaning that both she and her sister began life living, quite literally, underground, and were later orphaned. Reduced to near starvation and beggardom, her sister suffering from tuberculosis, the child Maria nevertheless managed to seek out joy where she could. One senses a small person, oppressed by the world, but whose spirit was bigger than her hungry physical frame.
Finally, the sun would come out! Summer! I’d go above ground … The beauty all around me was blinding, and no one had to cook anyone anything. On top of that, everything was singing, all the colors were out. I tasted every single little blade of grass, every leaf, each flower … every little root. One time, I ate so much henbane I nearly died.
It seems neither Maria nor her dying sister Vladya were entirely crushed by the oppression piled on them.
Source: interview with Maria Voiteshonok, in Svetlana Alexievich, Secondhand Time: The last of the Soviets, trans. by Bela Shayevich (New York: Random House, 2017), p. 226
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