Moving From Memoir to Novel: Jane Boruszewski's Story ESCAPE FROM RUSSIA

“Your father was lucky to be living now in Canada, and you are lucky too” Janina wrote in one of her comments to me in a writing workshop. She knew all about luck: both the bad luck of being born in Poland in 1926, and the good luck of being a survivor. She was 13 when Stalin’s cruel regime deported her family and over a million and a half Poles from their homes to northern Kazakhstan, Siberia. On the way or during the first winters, many died of starvation including her father, an aunt, her sister, Helcia and a baby brother. She managed to survive the harsh life until the amnesty in 1942 when she left by train with her family to find the Polish Army. When she and her brother and sister contracted typhoid fever they were hospitalized in Bukhara (Uzbekistan) and were separated from the family. Again she survived, and was helped by the Polish Army to escape from Russia through the Caspian Sea to Persia (Iran) and ultimately to a Polish community in Tengeru, Tanganyika (now Tanzania), East Africa where she spent seven years completing high school. After the war ended, she signed up to work at a textile mill in England, where she met her future husband Walter, and later immigrated to America.

I’ve never forgotten Janina because she woke me up to the power of personal story telling to convey larger stories of human history. Janina or Jane Boruszewski was one of several aspiring writers who signed up for an on-line advanced memoir writing workshop with Allyson Latta in the fall of 2008. Jane was writing her memoir, in English, her second language. She had taken other courses and was fluent enough in English to begin writing her stories, seven of which were published in Oasis Journal. Compelled by a need to tell her life story, she continued writing until her death in August 2009, at the age of 82.

Jane’s personality was shaped by her extraordinary experiences. Her writing is important because it gives a human scale to the horrors and suffering of deportation and a life that most of us can’t imagine and have never experienced. She engages the reader by focusing on universal themes of family, love, hate, sickness and death. Then she slows down the narrative so that we can visualize a young couple in the glade in the taiga, and adds just enough context, that the dangers of their encounter are apparent. Too much context would lose the reader. Jane shows the reader what the characters are like with a skillful use of powerful verbs, subtle mention of small gestures or body language and terse bits of dialogue.

After Jane’s death, her husband, Walter Boruszewski, worked with Leila Joiner, editor of Oasis Journal and publisher of Imago Press and Pennywyse Press, to publish a novel based on Jane’s memoirs called ESCAPE FROM RUSSIA. The book is available from Amazon, and Barnes and Noble. Don’t miss it.

Copyright © 2010, Ruth Zaryski Jackson


Leila Joiner said...

Ruth, what a lovely tribute to Jane's memory and to her stories. I worked closely with Jane on her stories for OASIS Journal, and also on her novel, Escape from Russia, which I edited while she was still here to give me her input. Writing her stories was so important to Jane. Thank you so much for remembering her and her work.


Ruth, this is a moving remembrance of Jane and her writing, and her influence on all of us in those writing sessions. She worked very hard at her craft, and the result, as you say, is stories in turn tragic and beautiful, poignant and uplifting. Jane always wrote from the heart and with a wonderful innocence and faith in goodness that belied all she and her family had been through during and after the war. And whether creating memoirs or fiction, she told her truth.

I recently found a message from Jane, sent December 23, 2006:

"I thank you again and again for letting me into the precious Canadian senior writers. I'm fortunate to get to know all of them and I believe that they are the best writers anyone could meet online. I have, indeed, learned a lot from your and their comments. I do wish everyone a wonderful holiday and great New Year!
Blessings and love to you, your dear ones and to all the members of our workshop. Jane"

She narrowed the distance between us, and touched us all -- and through her novel she will, I'm sure, touch others. Thank you, Ruth, for sharing your memories of Jane.

Melissa Donovan said...

I haven't heard of this, but it looks like a good read. I have so much admiration for authors who share their personal lives through memoir.

Ruth Zaryski Jackson said...

Thanks for your comments. I hadn't realized Jane was working on the book with you before she died. It's hard to do her story justice in a short post but hopefully people will read the book.

Ruth Zaryski Jackson said...

You contributed a lot to Jane and her journey too, in the one workshop I did, and several others before.
Thanks for your comments and the pieces about her on your blog.

Ruth Zaryski Jackson said...

Thanks for dropping in and commenting. I appreciate your thoughts.

Tom said...

Thanks for this nice tribute and also for letting us know that the book is available. I very much enjoyed reading the excerpts Jane posted.

Ruth Zaryski Jackson said...

Tom, I thought you would be interested in Jane's book as you have a shared heritage and I think her story impacted all of us in Allyson's workshop. Thanks for coming by.

Mary said...

Your tribute to Jane indicates the respect all of us at Allyson's memoir workshop felt for her. She had a generous spirit. Early on, I was amazed by Jane's talent as a story teller and memoirist.

Jane's personal messages to me often ended with her blessings and prayers. It was like a warm hug across the internet.

Your words tell of the strength Jane must have showed to the world, even as a young child faced with adversity every step of her journey. Thanks for sharing your thoughts about Jane, and introducing us to her book.


Ruth Zaryski Jackson said...

Thanks for your comments. I think you knew Jane in earlier workshops at Ryerson U. as well as the one I was in. We all learned from her and were strengthened by her spirit.