Book Launch Guest Post: Inspiration For Writing We Shall See the Sky Sparkling, by Susana Aikin
—leaving her first love behind.
Gertrude in theatrical dancing costume
Gertrude Throop Cable
|Olga, 1 year old|
After that, all trace of baby Olga was lost to our family.
Years later, after I left my family and my homeland and moved to New York to become a filmmaker and a writer, I thought many times about Gertrude and her solo flight across Russia at the end of the 19th century. Plowing through the hardship of growing into an artist in a difficult, competitive world dominated –still today- by men, is a hard predicament for any woman at any time and place in history.
Only recently did it occur to me, one idle Sunday evening, to google Gertrude’s name, and when she popped up immediately under ancestry.com’s website, I knew I was in for a trip down the rabbit hole. The first surprise was to find her photograph uploaded onto another family tree: the descendants of her daughter Olga listed her as their grandmother. I learned instantly that Olga had survived and lived an interesting, rich life, had married into a wealthy Ukrainian family and migrated eventually to the US in the 1950s.
The picture her family had uploaded onto the site was very similar to the photo my mother kept on top of her writing desk in the living room. In both images, Gertrude is richly dressed in a long elegant coat with a fur stole that reaches below her knees, and a large, elaborate hat dressed with something resembling ostrich plumes, or some other exotic bird’s feather. Both photographs were taken in Saint Petersburg in 1900.
I immediately got in touch with her grandchildren, who were very generous in providing information to fill in the gaps of her story. The most important piece I obtained was the copy of a short life memoir written by Olga herself, in which besides narrating her own life, she recounts everything she knew about her mother. This is how it starts:
I was born in Vladivostok, Maritime Province of the Russian Far East, on January 6, 1903. My father was Sergei Nikolayevich Latkin, Commissioner of the Customs for the Far East. My mother was Gertrude Throop-Cable.
During the Russo-Japanese war in 1904 my mother took me to St. Petersburg, while my father remained as a war correspondent there. The Trans-Siberian railroad had not been built, or completed at that time. We had to cross the Lake Baikal on sleighs, it was winter and my mother contracted a cold, which due to her weak lungs developed into tuberculosis... I do not remember her, since I was only 1 1/2 years old… From what I was told and the photography I have, she was a beautiful woman. Artists always asked my father to have her sit for a painting.
The moment I started reading this document, I thought about writing a novel.
The rest, as they say, is history.
"Aikin's novel is expertly plotted and rife with historical details in both its English and Russian settings, making for a rich story of the prejudices women faced at the turn of the 20th century and how the class disparity in Russia ignited the flame of revolution."~ PUBLISHERS WEEKLY "Beginning and ending with letters written to her family, this novel has the feel of a serial drama. Readers of Pam Jenoff and Eva Stachniak will appreciate the strong-willed and artistically driven female character who finds her own way through difficult times."~ LIBRARY JOURNAL