Back to the citadel

Now a cheer went up, echoed by muttered prayers. The train was leaving Moscow exactly on schedule. Musya let her eyelids fall, loosened her grip on the leaky quilt and felt the will that had powered her forward transformed, thrumming—a stretched wire released with a snap.

Her mind spun in place. Words from a hundred arguments she’d had flew out at her like notes from a crazy broken gramophone. Too many children—too many children: she’d brought them all this far, just to go back. She pictured gigantic circles, wheels in time she couldn’t escape. She couldn’t have pushed ahead on her own another moment—not with so many children. Four, they stood gathered at the window, distracted and safe under a roof for a week. Her seat rocked side to side. Residual tensions slipped through her onto the tracks, only a few returned to pluck at her again.

She looked out and saw the city’s gray-black industrial hem give way like grime in a soaking tub to birch groves, picket fences, charming dachas with bright carved fronts. Everyone picked their favorites. Everyone drank hot tea.

From the final third of LAMENT, at the start of the family’s return to Birobidzhan in autumn 1944 on Trans-Siberian rail out of Moscow.

Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa

It is a fact that in 2015 while I was writing the middle of the book that takes place in wartime in the Jewish ghetto of Obodovka, I saw Mad Max: Fury Road thirteen times at the multiplex across the street from the office where I work. I’d describe the movie as a major influence but the drab generality of those words don’t render enough justice. I drank it in—the speed, the grandeur, the imaginative detail; the bitterness and hard-won humor; the unrelentingness; above all, the commitment. Everyone involved, hundreds of people on set, hundreds maybe thousands more in post-production, all laboring, a lot of them in desert heat, jumping from moving vehicles—every single person involved giving total commitment. I was inspired to emulate the human beings who made Mad Max: Fury Road, me one middle-aged woman sitting sometimes entirely alone in an upstairs theater with a pair of 3-D glasses on my face, my heart pounding in time to the soundtrack, weeping, weeping when Furiosa falls to her knees on the sand. LAMENT, I recognized, is based on the same material, and the same history: wartime, World War, a world of horrors and ruination, everywhere you look an almost lifeless killing ground for warlords who make commodities of women and hapless soldier-drones of men, and slaves of their children. To show this in its truth is worth every effort. Thank you, my favorite movie, for the strength when I needed it to keep going.