Donna Solecka Urbikas grew up in the Midwest during the golden years of the American century. But her Polish-born mother and half-sister endured dehumanizing conditions during World War II as slave laborers in Siberia. War and exile created a profound bond between mother and older daughter, one that Donna would struggle to find with either of them.
At four o’clock in the morning on February 10, 1940, Janina Ślarzynska and her five-year-old daughter, Mira, were taken by Soviet secret police from their small family farm in eastern Poland and sent to Siberia with hundreds of thousands of others. So began their odyssey of hunger, disease, cunning survival, desperate escape across continents, and new love amidst terrible circumstances.
After the war, Mira, Janina, and her new husband – a Polish Army officer who had helped them escape the Soviet Union – are haunted by the past. Baby boomer Donna, born in postwar England and growing up in the 1950s Chicago, yearns for a “normal” American family. In this unforgettable memoir, Donna recounts her family history and her own survivor’s story, finally understanding the damaged mother who had saved her sister.