Dosha, flight of the Russian Gypsies
Author: Sonia Meyer
Publisher: Wilderness House Press (2010)
Binding: Hardcover, 386 pages
In 1956 Khrushchev s Thaw triggers the Hungarian Revolution and upheaval in the Soviet Empire. During Khrushchev s first state visit to Helsinki, Dosha, star rider of the Soviet Dressage Team and her horse defect with the help of local Gypsies. The novel follows the life of Dosha, a Gypsy in disguise. It offers unique insight into the tribal life of nomadic Gypsies, who under Stalin joined partisans fighting Nazi invaders, only to face entrapment during Khrushchev s Thaw. By then Dosha and her talented circus horse have been drafted into the dressage team in Leningrad. Navigating political intrigue, narrowly escaping discovery by the KGB, she enters a love forbidden to Gypsy women. One goal remains uppermost in her mind leading her tribe and her horse to freedom in the West.
Sonia Meyer's novel provided a portal into a portion of history and a people I was unfamiliar with. Gypsy was a word that conjured up pictures of fortunetellers, colorful wagons, and people dancing: impressions the source of which I did not know, and had never considered. Now, that is no longer the case. If challenged to describe Dosha with one word I would choose "Enlightening," for I have been enlightened about Gypsies and Soviet history.
Meyer tells a compelling story of Nazi atrocities against Gypsies. Atrocities the Romani (Gypsies) refer to as the Porraimos, the Romani word for Holocaust. After fighting to protect Mother Russia in WWII, Stalin allowed the Gypsies, to freely wander across the Soviet Union, which also allowed them to witness many of Stalin's atrocities. After Stalin's death, Nikita Khrushchev replaced him and initiated "The Thaw,"giving false hope to Soviet citizens, before crushing them. Gypsies became enemies of the state and their nomadic ways had to be ended. Free spirits cannot be tolerated in a totalitarian nation. In 1956 Khrushchev initiated the round up of nomadic Gypsies, know to them as "the Great Halt."
Myers sets her story in this environment, told by the experiences of a young Gypsy girl who catches a runaway German colt, a young stallion. The two bond. Such a bond is difficult to understand unless you have raised a horse from birth.
The story begins on June 6, 1957 in Helsinki, Finland with a vivid description of the area gripped in a heat wave. Nikita Khrushchev is coming the next day for a state visit. Finland exists in the shadow of the Soviet Union, their freedom could be ended at the whim of the Soviet leader. We meet the eighteen-year old heroin, Dosha, known to the Russians as Ana Alexandrevna Dalova, in the Russian Embassy. Ana is acting as a translator for General Raskov. Comrade Natalia Yemekov, KGB, is there to prevent defections and to identify any Russian with inappropriate thoughts. Her attention focuses on Ana. We learn that Ana is being used as a street agent (Soviet personnel sent out on the cities streets to listen and report), and that she is a member of the Soviet dressage team and the rider of the stallion Rus. The scene is filled with tension and conflict. Every Soviet citizen was watched, and all lived in constant fear of being denounced. The first chapter ends with Ana leaving the embassy to continue her duties as a street agent, and the reader is left wondering what is up.
The next chapter opens as a flashback. Dosha is a little girl in 1941, listening for the approach of Nazi bombers in a forest in Poland. The
follows Dosha's life as a Gypsy in the Soviet Union as she matures and learns about her heritage and destiny. Dosha captures a young colt that grows into a magnificent stallion. The two bond and her life revolves around the great stallion as she strives to protect him from the Soviet state. Along the way she meets many interesting people, learns how to assume the identity of non-Gypsy and blend in. The reader is exposed to life in the "Workers Paradise," a sobering experience.
Meyer fills the pages with vivid descriptions of Gypsy life, culture, myths, locations and people. A sad story set in a sad land about a strong young woman with a burning desire for freedom. A story that gives the reader a feel for the Gypsy life behind the iron curtain. It is also a story that inspires. Dosha has a couple of lovers, but in the hard reality of Soviet Communism state, they cannot have a happy ending.
Dosha manages to survive and protect her stallion, and finally becomes the star rider of the new Soviet dressage team. A long, hazardous journey that paints a stark picture of Soviet society. Finally we reach Helsinki, where the story reconnects with the first chapter and the need for the introduction becomes clear.
Dosha is a powerful, haunting story. One not easily forgotten.
Reviewed by: Lee Boyland (2011)