Review of The Kulak’s Daughter by Gabriele Goldstone

The Kulak's Daughter

If you like historical fiction, you’ll love ‘The Kulak’s Daughter’ by Gabriele Goldstone. It’s based on a true story and although it’s aimed at younger readers of the Young Adult market, it is still entertaining for older readers, as well.

The blurb on the back of the book states:

Olga likes little things – especially the tiny apples in the orchard in the spring, or her baby brother’s little toes. But when her family is labeled ‘Kulak’ and exiled to Siberia, she starts to hate little things – especially the bedbugs that overrun the barrack at night, or the lice that carry the dreaded typhus. Suddenly Olga’s little world is overwhelmed by Stalin’s big plans.

Gabriele nails the tension, the fear and the tragedy of the era. Her main character, Olga, experiences the gambit of emotions from elation at getting a beautiful doll for her eleventh birthday, to grief at leaving her home and dog when her family is branded ‘kulaks’ and sent into exile.

One part that gave me chills was this scene, described by Olga:

“It won’t be long before they come back to take me, for good this time,” Papa says this quietly. matter-of-factly, after he’s pushed his dinner late away.

I see that even he can’t finish his food.

“Papa? You didn’t . . .” Marthe’s noticed, too.

I cover her mouth.

“I’m a kulak. They don’t like my kind.”

Kulak is a Russian term meaning ‘tight-fisted’. Stalin used the term for affluent farmers and peasants who would not turn over their produce, livestock and lands for the ‘greater good’, in other words ‘Collective Farms’, which were supposed to increase food production for the urban populations. Those who did not go along with the Bolshevik policies were taken from their homes and sent to Siberian work camps. Many did not survive. Those who did live were permanently scarred by the experience.

The Kulak's Daughter back

Another scene describes how Olga feels while talking to her best friend:

“Olga, we can’t be friends anymore. My mamma says I should have nothing more to do with you.”

Marissa’s words feel like a slap, their iciness a visible cloud between us.

Having a friend say that is like a knife to the heart. To lose a precious friendship because of something that’s beyond your control would be hard for a child to understand. I remember when my own mother told me not to be friends with someone she considered a bad influence. I defied her and would sneak out to meet with her anyway, but in Olga’s case it’s the friend herself who is ending the friendship. That is so harsh!

When describing her painful exile, Olga states:

My hunger sits in my stomach like a hard rock of pain.

How many young people in North America know that kind of hunger? While there are probably too many, I would think that the majority of school kids today would have trouble imagining it or the cold Olga felt in that poorly heated, uninsulated building where they were forced to live after leaving their home.

I highly recommend ‘The Kulak’s Daughter’ to anyone who is interested in a child’s perspective of the time of Stalin’s communist rule. It is heart-wrenching and eye-opening. Gabriele really does a wonderful job of presenting the emotions and difficulties of the time. Olga is a very sympathetic character, despite her typical childish self-centered moments. She is a child, after all, and she brings history to life. Her story should make most kids in North America today realize just how lucky they are. 🙂

If you want to get to know Gabriele and the story behind the story, tune in on Sunday for her interview. 🙂