You can never go back. Well, you can, but it won’t be the same. Sometimes you have to, or you want to, despite knowing the sad truth. And then you might find you want to return to the place you thought you wanted to leave, and that could also have changed.
Lily Hyde blogged here this week, about how things are for the Tatars in Crimea right now, and it’s not looking promising. In her novel Dream Land we move twenty years into the past, to the time when hundreds of thousands of the forcibly displaced Crimean Tatars returned ‘home.’
Based on real life stories, Lily writes about 12-year-old Safi, her older brother Lutfi and their parents, who were all born in Samarkand, Uzbekistan, as they return to Crimea with her grandfather who was 17 when he had to leave in 1944, and who has dreamed of home ever since. He has told the stories and Crimea lives in their hearts, to the extent that they happily sold their Samarkand home at a loss and gave up qualified jobs, to return home to where they’ve never been.
The old Crimea no longer exists. Not only have Russians moved into Tatar houses, but whole villages have been razed to the ground. The paradise they’d heard so much about was long gone. And the current inhabitants don’t want them. They are illegals, and as such they can’t buy or build new homes, they can’t work, or go to school. (Sound familiar?)
Nevertheless, they embark on building a rather sorry excuse for a house, and they quarrel as things don’t go well. Grandfather continues telling them the old stories. The police persecute them and the neighbours aren’t exactly friendly. (To be fair, they feel threatened by the Tatars who might take their homes and jobs.)
It’s a sad story about people’s determination to rebuild a dream country. Safi wants to go home to Samarkand. And she is shocked by her family’s reactions to the Russians; even the few friendly ones are rebuffed, because they want nothing to do with anyone related to those who stole their homes.
If it weren’t for recent events, I’d have finished Dream Land thinking that sooner or later things would work out all right for Safi’s family and the many thousands of others, but it doesn’t look like it will happen, soon, or ever.
People take a long time to learn.
(I’d had this book for a while, and for once I’m actually glad I delayed reading it. Everything felt so much more relevant now, with Crimea in the news, even if it’s for all the wrong reasons.)