|Book Review ; The Four Seasons of a Slave by Gabriel Watermiller |
The dark days of World War Two should have been lighted with hope when Hitler and the Nazis were defeated by England, the United States, Russia and other allied countries in 1945. For many, there was a gradual alleviation of suffering; not so for those countries who, after the Potsdam Conference among Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin, were left to the tender mercies of the Soviets, among them Romania.
Romania had initially fought on the side of the Nazis against Russia and had been occupied first by the Germans. A coup by King Michael in 1944 resulted in Romania’s changing sides to fight for the Allies. By the end of the war, Russia occupied Romania.
That the allies had, with an expedient stroke of a pen, betrayed the countries turned over to the Soviets became increasingly obvious in subsequent decades. The hope of many Romanians, that America would save them, turned to bitter disappointment.
In his absorbing depiction of life in Romania under the Communists, Gabriel Watermiller has done a stellar job. The setting is so well described that the reader is transported to that world. The characters are believable and well drawn, and the tale is well plotted, leading to its inevitable conclusion. Since Gabriel Watermiller was actually there and lived through this horrendous time, the story is vivid with firsthand and knowledgeable incidents and impressions.
The author tells the tale of three young professional men who struggle with their principles, their
concept of what it means to be a man, and their fierce love of country and tradition against the lie they are forced to live. For their own safety, they must maintain a servile and insincere fealty to a system they despise, the “workers’ paradise” that purports to grant them dignity and prosperity, but is really a system of hunger, brutality, want and fear. The intelligentsia of the country have been dispossessed and deprived of position, and many have simply disappeared, their homes and places taken by illiterate and incapable thugs whose only claim to fame is their fealty to the communist system. Fealty to such a system, even insincere fealty, is anathema to the young men, for it destroys their sense of justice and torments their conscience. The alternative is to be imprisoned, tortured, or shot.
Their lives are made worse by the capitulation of people they know who bow to expediency, fawning over and feting their “superiors” in exchange for position and material benefits, seemingly unaware of the moral implications of their actions and their refusal to confront truth. As the young men continue their struggle, the reader is dawn to their plight as, in turn, each makes his decision and suffers the inevitable consequences.
The pathos of the story is magnified and deepened by the skillful use of setting, a tragedy unfolding in the natural beauty of the Romanian countryside, a natural Eden despoiled by an evil political ideology. The symbolic use of the predatory owls and the hapless sparrows adds to the telling of a tale that must not be missed. If we see what slavery really is, only then can we appreciate our freedom.
Reviewed by Ruth Buchanan
Author, editor and publisher,
Retired teacher of English Literature
from Lethbridge Community College, Alberta
by Ruth Buchanan 4/24/2019