Friday, April 15, 2005

The Darkest Evening

Durbin, William. 2004. THE DARKEST EVENING. New York: Orchard Books. ISBN 0439373077. [Suggested Grade Levels 6-8]

Things were tough for everyone during the Great Depression, but in 1934, Jake Maki’s father, Arvid, saw what he believed to be the chance of a lifetime. Selling everything the family owned, the Makis left their comfortable home in Minnesota for Karelia, an area of Russia where Arvid hoped to join others of Finnish descent in forming an independent, socialist Finnish republic within the borders of the Soviet Union. Things go badly from the start. The family is assigned to live in a ramshackle hut in the middle of the wilderness while setting up a lumber mill. There is no school or comforts of any kind, but Arvid refuses to give up. Eventually, the family is moved to tiny apartment in the city of Pertrozavodsk, so Arvid can work in a ski factory. Things look promising at first, but soon, the Soviet secret police begin arresting Finns for no apparent reason, but even when Jake’s older brother, Peter is arrested, Arvid believes it is all a mistake. Then, Arvid disappears. Jake, his mother, and younger sister decide they must leave and make a daring escape by skiing through the snow covered wilderness and into the safety of Finland.

This is an intriguing story of a little known historical event. American Finns were persuaded to leave the US in the 1930’s and move to an uncertain future in Stalin’s Soviet Union, all in the hopes of building a workers’ paradise. From the moment the Makis set foot in Russia, it is apparent things are not going well there. After seeing a drunk lying in the gutter, Jake feels his apprehension increase. Durbin’s sense of foreshadowing is well done. Readers can feel Jake’s growing anxiety as he sees more and more things go wrong while his father continues to maintain all is well. This is both a fascinating historical novel and an exciting adventure story for young adult readers.

Readers can discuss how they think they would react if they were suddenly taken from the United States and forced to live as the Makis did. They may want to study maps and trace the Makis’ journey from Minnesota to Karelia to Finland.

Other books by Durbin that could be compared to this one:

By Ellen Reed

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