The Impossible Journey

by Gloria Whelan

HarperCollins, January, 2003.
Hardcover, 256 pages.
ISBN: 0066238110
Ages 5 and up

The Impossible Journey by Gloria Whelan The Impossible Journey is the odyssey of two children traveling across the endless miles between Leningrad and Siberia trying to find their parents. In the frightening years of Josef Stalin's rise to power within the Communist Party, families were torn apart when relatives under suspicion of having sympathies for a particular politician were either executed or were sent to Siberia to be locked away, forgotten in the great Soviet deep freeze.

Marya and Georgi are two children who live in a cold Leningrad apartment with their parents who had been the children of aristocrats. Now living in poverty, the parents and their children live in the ever present fear that they will have to suffer for their political beliefs. The mother tells her daughter tales of what it used to be like living in the Winter Palace and playing with the four daughters of the Tsar. One day Marya finds a locket hidden away in a dresser drawer. It is in the shape of a four leaf clover and inside each petal is the miniature portrait of a young girl. The locket makes her mother sad, and Marya's father explains that the Tsar's family had all been executed as enemies of the state. Unfortunately, Marya makes the mistake of revealing that her parents had once lived at the Winter Palace, and just to make matters worse takes the locket to school to prove her claim. Things rapidly get worse. Marya's parents are arrested and sent to prison in Siberia and Marya and her brother are forced to live with very unpleasant neighbors who immediately seize the family's possessions as pay for feeding their children. It is then that the two children begin to make plans to find their parents. When a letter comes from the mother saying that she has been sent to a town in Siberia called Dubinka, the children begin their journey. They must reach Siberia before winter comes. Equipped with the faith that innocence brings, they begin their impossible journey north. Along the way they meet many types of people -- mostly disagreeable ones -- and have many narrow escapes.

The Impossible Journey is a grim reminder of the terrible things that happened to all levels of society during the brutal reign of Josef Stalin. The children endure many hardships, but Marya, who tells the story, never loses hope for long. The meeting with the nomadic Samoyeds is full of surprising information about this little known culture and about the harsh climate that shapes their lives. Although the story begins in misery, it ends in warmth, reunion and hope.

--Sarah Reaves White

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This review was published in the February, 2003 of The Internet Writing Journal.

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