Author: Janice L. Dick
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The year is 1926. The Russian Revolution of 1917 and the ensuing Civil Wars of 1918-1920 have left unhealed scars on the face of South Russia, and the Great War has traumatized the entire world. Famine has spread through a country suffering drought and economic chaos. Against the backdrop of a Russian nation in transition from Tsarist autocracy to communism, the Mennonite people who are settled in villages and colonies in western Siberia hope to remain unnoticed. The Siberian Mennonites wish for nothing more than relative freedom to live out their faith in peace, even if food is scarce. Luise Letkemann yearns for freedom, security, and marriage to her lifelong love, Daniel Martens. She has heard of the war, famine and disease that have befallen her people in South Russia during the revolutions, wars and famines. She is also aware of the mass emigration of thousands of Mennonites from South Russia, now known as Ukraine, to the Americas. But until recently, her people have lived without significant governmental intrusion in Siberia. However, the Stalinist regime's interference in daily life is escalating, and even the village of Alexandrovka feels the increasing oppression toward the Siberian Mennonites. The communist administration threatens to destroy everything Luise lives for and believes in. Meanwhile, the people of Alexandrovka and the surrounding region have begun to discuss evacuation. The momentum of emigration to the west is slowing, health qualifications are stringent, and Luise's stepmother is unwell. If the Letkemann family does not pass the emigration standards, they must learn how to survive in the midst of change and oppression. Daniel Martens thought he would be content with his lovely Luise and a degree of compromise with the state, but he soon realizes there is no middle ground with this government. Compromise would involve shunning his religion, his work ethic and the core beliefs on which he bases his life. He still hopes to continue to farm with his father in Alexandrovka, with Luise at his side, but it will be a challenge in many respects. Unfortunately, Daniel is as outspoken as his father, who has defied the administration of the local administration office by purchasing a new Fordson tractor. His actions lead Daniel into a direct confrontation with Soviet official Senior-major Leonid Dubrowsky of the secret police, the dreaded GPU. The encounter results in far-reaching consequences. When Luise and Daniel are separated, she must decide whether or not to accompany her family to the eastern edge of Soviet Russia. How long will Daniel be gone? Would he want her to stay or go? Will their new home allow them to escape the clutches of the Soviet system? Dilemmas build. Opportunities demand decisions. Over time and vast distances across the face of Soviet Russia, Luise and Daniel struggle to survive separation, threats to love and faith, the harsh climate, and what has become a sinister personal vendetta by Dubrowsky. Along the way, Daniel wonders why Dubrowsky has chosen to stalk him, yet some dark force propels the Senior-major on an unwavering course. This is a story of love and faith, of loss and freedom. Will Luise and Daniel be reunited? Will their faith survive the test? When the Soviet regime follows them to the eastern edge of the country, to the village of Shumanovka where they have settled, the Letkemann family begin to look across the river to China. Perhaps there is freedom on the other side of the river. But what will be the cost of freedom? On 16 December, 1930, the village of Shumanovka packed into horse-drawn sleds and crossed the frozen Amur River in search of freedom in China. 217 people. 60 wagons. The temperature plummeted to -50 Fahrenheit. The sky was clear and sound carried for miles. The Russian Mennonites had no idea if their flight would be successful or if this was a ticket to their deaths. Other Side of the River is the fictionalized version of this story.