Monday, April 11, 2011
One Story that Must Be Told
Diaspora To The Sun
Through Revolution, War and Cold War
Reviewed by Fran Lewis
You create an entire life for your family. You build up businesses, create jobs for others and work to provide for your family’s needs during what would soon become difficult times. Zehidulla and Ayse Agis lived in Penza, Russia. Telling and relating stories of their lives are authors Najiya Moroz Williams and Jack R. Williams taking the reader on a long Diaspora: journey to many countries, places and cities as the world they lived in was rocked with fear, corruption, murder and dissention among the different class of people, ethnicities in a county that no longer under its own control. Bolsheviks, Monarchists, Anarchists, Czarists, Nihilists and political operatives poisoned the army unit creating their own form of rigs and divisions among them that would eventually change the political climate and air in Russia. This is the story of one family. This is a story of what happens when a world becomes out of control, wars begin, people are displaced, lives are changed and decisions have to make to survive. This is a story of persistence, love, loyalty, friendship and courage starting with the wisdom of one man Zehidulla and continuing with Abdulla and Zarif who would carry on the business dealings of great traders, make their way from Turkey, to China, Japan and many other places in the world. This is a story that needs to be heard. This is their story.
Zehidulla Agis was a wealthy businessman- a trader. He owned stores in Penza, Ufa and Omsk and beyond. But, the fear of losing more than just his livelihood hung over his head like a black cloud as the news many decisions of the changes in Russia, the different factions that were forming and the dangers that would lie ahead.
As a Tatar-Mongol he and his family were proud. As the authors both relate the history of these people and enormous business sense, growth and wealth, two young men, apprentices to Zehudulla would play an active role in his life and theirs throughout this story. Black Death was thought to be the Black Plague- but not in this case- one man deemed or called Black Death- Alexis Grodin- a Bolshevik- operative would haunt Zehudulla and others. The end result- terrifying-horrific to say the least as the authors relate the history of the Bolsheviks and their true mission. Striving to achieve poser and refusing to cooperate with the democratic regime of government, the Bolsheviks did not favor an open party membership as the Mensheviks did. Cooperation with other socialist and non-socialist groups in Russia went against their beliefs. Believing in limited party membership. Mensheviks believed in the open party membership. Leon Trotsky was a Mensheviks and Stalin the opposite. After the Revolution the authors tell how Stalin came into power, what happened to Trotsky and the birth of Communism.
As the story continues I am focusing my thoughts and review on the journey, the Diaspora of the Agis family- their struggle to stay alive- the humiliations endured when the Russians came into their home and pilfered, took and desecrated all that was precious and dear to them without any protest- denials or harsh words uttered by them.
Take this trip back in time with me, the authors and meet Zehidulla, Ayse, Abudulla, Zarif and the their family. Let’s relive the experiences they encountered during their journey and flight from Russia during the Revolution to the Manchuria, Japan, Turkey and America. Displaced, Zehidulla watched the fall of the Ottoman Empire, hoped and prayed for a Republic but what they endured, witnessed and the end result told in his very own words through our author, Najiya, comes through loud and clear and will help you understand the true connotation of the word Diaspora and how far and long this one lasted. The story begins with a family gathering where they are discussing and debating the fate of Russia, their family history and that of the Tartars. Many stories would be related. A trader across Muslin Russia, dealing with the Germans, Russians- Czarist governments- Revolution stirring up, dissent and dislocation created chaos, danger and discord in their once normal world. As Abdulla and Zarif listened to the stories and soon to be sent to Ufa to start their apprenticeships, little did they know what was really to come? But, as I said before the Black Death in the form of Alexis Grodin appeared- out of nowhere- threatening Zehidulla’s family, business and life. Blackmailing him, threatening harm to his family and much more he had no choice but to give in to his demands. Under the ruse or guise of needing funds to support the Bolchevik’s cause and armies, he came, took and threatened dire consequences. But, Zehidulla was a smart businessman, and would not allow this to deter him, destroy his family nor his business. Throughout each chapter the authors give the reader a lesson in history about the past, the Tartars, Silk Road, Steppesman and much more enabling the reader to become one with the history and understand the times.
As Zarif’s words are the next that are heard as he is sent away on business only to be snagged by the army, forced to walk across Siberia, suffer hardships, deaths of his fellow soldiers, officers and best friend, and fear that he would never see his family again. Vividly described incidents help the reader form a mental image of the events that you will never forget.
Continuing by reminding the reader of how the Bolsheviks came into power, Lenin’s rise and role and the final result to Russia. Added to that Abdulla’s father backtracks to Russia hoping to bring the rest of his family to safety. Moving forward to the history and the end of WWI Zarif and Abdulla discuss their take on Lenin, the revolution, and the Bolsheviks. But, Abdul’s journey is short and the end result devastating.
The family becomes smaller and Zehidulla does not know what has become of Zarif until he turns up at his door two years later. Rejoining the trade business and hoping to make a life for him.
The dangers were present in Russian. The next stop on the journey is Japan as we hear the voice of her grandmother, Ayse describing the cherry blossoms and the Imperial Hotel. Old fashion matchmakers enjoy paring up young people. That was how it was supposed to be done even back then. But, Zarif had his eyes on Sara and he decided to do it a different way. Just how he and Sara finally tied the knot you need to read that part of the story for yourself as well as how he plays Cyrano for Abdulla in order to make sure he and Sever marry too.
In 1937 our author, Najiya is born. Starting over again in Kobe Zehidulla moves into a new life and Zarif joins him. Adding more history to the story about Russia, the Turkish Republic and their new life you hear the voices of both Ayse and Zehidulla. Two friends meet up again in Tokyo and both Zarif and Abdulla work together and more historical discussions are imparted to the reader about China and Japan and their different foreign policies and the viewpoints of our two young men. Difficulties in China and Japan the book is replete in historical events that lead up to the Second World War the causes of the war, China and Japan’s roles and that of the United States and Germany too.
Meet Jack: our second author. Jack is a navy engineer and we experience his early life in the navy, becoming a pilot and then visiting the many places around the world until meet his wife, Najiya. Their interesting meeting, courtship and marriage is so unique and different you need to read it for yourself. As Jack leaves the navy, meets her parents who are non too thrilled at her not marrying an ambassador, but an engineer, Jack shares not only with his wife but the reader the history related to the start of WWII, Stalin’s role, Khrushchev, the Cold War and much more.
As the story comes to an end Jack and Zarif visit Istanbul, and he travels to Topkapi where he meets an Indian who befriends him. Sharing with the reader the two different ways to view this country one from Europe and the other in contrast from the east, the authors describe this country and place so vividly from both directions one filled with dirt and unpaved streets the other rich and filled with businesses and much more.
In 1979 Zarif passes away added a sad note to our story. A distant uncle but like a father to our Najiya, and close ally and friend to Jack his loss was deeply felt and remembered in Chapter 13. Their next journey would be Glasnost, Russia. Take the tour of Russia with them and see the sites, West Berlin, hear the warnings of not photographing the police. Hear the descriptions as the guide and the authors tell you about East and West Berlin and the military presence the different people, their appearances had the many differences among them.
Finally, they visited Red Square for the first time. The description is so vivid you feel as if you are right there with them as you visualize the Cathedrals, the Kremlin and the sear of power, red brick Kremlin wall that defines one side of Red Square and Lenin’s polished red granite mausoleum. Followed by a second visit the next day when people were going to work, looking at the sites. At present the Square is stark reminding visits of the dictators and commissars reviewing the stands in the harsh cold weather watching the army’s pass by. As the author’s continue with their tour of the Kremlin. Finally they discuss in detail Gorbachev and his role in the Soviet Union’s downfall and much more.
As Jack thinks about the lives of Abdulla and Sever and how it all began as friends and the living through the Russian Revolution, Civil War, escaping to Manchuria and married in Harbin, next Japan, Kobe, Tokyo and finally America these two eighty year olds were nonstop in their activities and still carried on as if they were young. Abdulla goes to California to meet with Jack and tell him about his life and more. Reliving his choices, his life and sharing it with not only his family but also Jack added more meaning to Abdulla’s and his foreseen death. Read Chapter 15 and go back with Jack and Abdulla and revisit the events as he tells them. Added to that Najiya wants other facts about Moslems, their dress and much more clarified by Jack as the final journey comes with a discussion of how the Muslim world is so different in cultures and behaviors.
For those that do not really understand the Muslim world, the world beyond where you live, this book is really more than just about their family. It is about the history of so many people, the Russians, Chinese, Japanese, the Americans past and present. As the authors recap the entire journey in the last few chapters you can once again relive the Jack’s time in the navy, the cold war, the fall of the Soviet Union, the deaths of so many close to them and their final discussion remembering Abdul, Zehidulla, and many more. As she remembers her family he remembers the cold war, containment police and his journey across four continents.
A story so interesting, so important and wonderfully told I am really honored that I was asked to read and review this story of their family, their goals, their strife, the happiness and their sad times. But one thing rings true: it is a story of hope, loyalty, love, friendship, persistence and understanding. It is a story that will enlighten the reader to lives of others that they might not have understood before. It is a story that has been told and needs to read and heard by others. Never give up on what you want in life and to Najiya and Jack: YES THEY MATTERED!
I am honored and really blessed to have been asked to read and review this book and tell this story. Some journeys never end: Diaspora to the Sun or Journey to me into the light and their’s still continues.
Fran Lewis Reviewer