Anyone who has ever been curious about his or her roots and delved into family genealogy knows they’re bound to find a few surprises. My own husband’s genealogy search has produced information on countless relatives from the past with some of the most fascinating stories. Maria Sutton, author of The Night Sky, had other reasons for beginning her genealogy research. Her mother Julia’s family was torn apart by the horrors and atrocities that occurred both during and after World War II. As a product of displaced persons camps in her early life before coming to America, Maria is content with her new life in Colorado, far from the postwar entanglements that she and her family suffered. However, all of this past is brought back into sharp focus as she overhears her mother mentioning a man from her past in a conversation to her friend. Maria discovers that this man is in fact her biological father, and the man who has raised her for the majority of her life is her stepfather. Although her mother strongly advises against it, Maria embarks on a journey to meet him and discover the history of how she and her mother came to America.
Upon finishing this novel I was amazed at how much of the Holocaust and WWII is still a mystery to me. What really appealed to me about The Night Sky was that it gave an account of the war from Eastern Europe’s viewpoint. When I took a Holocaust history course in college it mostly focused on the war in England, Germany, and France, and didn’t discuss much of Stalin’s invasions through Poland, Ukraine, etc. Learning new facts (to me) about the war was both heartbreaking and eye-opening. The one that stands out the most for me was the Katyn Massacre. Sutton writes:
Stalin had committed one of his most heinous crimes in Katyn Forest, near Smolensk, Russia. During Russia’s invasion of Poland, 180,000 Polish soldiers were captured. Of those, 15,000 Polish officers and intellectuals were segregated by the Red Army into different detention centers and transported to the same area used by the Bolsheviks in 1919 for murdering Tsar Nicholas’s officers. The 15,000 captured officers and intellectuals were loaded into truckers and told they were going home. But the truckers stopped in Katyn Forest and, one by one, each officer was executed with a bullet to the head and buried in a mass grave.
The novel is packed with facts like these that really do an excellent job on getting Eastern Europe’s story out there. Often there is a great amount of focus on Hitler’s terrible quest to create a master race, and the atrocities and history of Russia, Poland, the Ukraine, and many other Eastern Bloc countries is buried in the past. Sutton brings this past to light by telling the story shared by millions as they were touched by the horrors of WWII.
The other portion of the novel, Sutton’s search for her family, is a heart wrenching story filled with lies, betrayal, and fortunately an eventual happy ending. Sutton’s main goal in the novel is to search for her biological father, Jozef. My heart broke each time her searches hit a dead-end. Finding Jozef became as important to me as it did for Sutton. Her writing skills are fantastic and really pulled me into this search, making me giddy with anticipation every time she found a lead. Sutton is one tenacious women, using all possible resources (including hiring an ex-KGB officer) to find her family. Her gripping forty-plus year search is the backbone of this novel, making it one of the most memorable memoirs I’ve ever read. Harrowing, brutal, and painfully honest, The Night Sky is one novel you MUST add to your to-read pile this year.
5 out of 5 Stars
This is my fourth completed review for the Around The Stack In How Many Ways Challenge