The refugee experience and the problem of providing refuge. Review of ‘A Feather on the Water: A Novel’ by Lindsay Jayne Ashford

As the child of World War 2 refugees who settled in the United Kingdom, I absorbed some information about their experiences from my parents who were both from Latvia. Terminology such as refugee, displaced person and DP camp was encountered (but not necessarily understood) at a younger age than I imagine for most children born in 1950s London.

Access to less mainstream literature became easier with the advent of online shopping, and as the individuals concerned grew older and felt the need to document their experiences, I found several books written in the English language by people from Latvia who had found themselves in similar straits to my parents. In fact, I began searching for these books and buying them when possible. Some autobiographies were not particularly well written but always worth reading for the insight they gave into this period of history as well as the ways people had had to adapt to the situations they had found themselves in. Thus I gained some idea of what life in Displaced Persons (DP) camps had been like and how people had found themselves trying to navigate a world in which they were at the mercy of decisions by higher powers while hoping to be able to influence their chances of a better future, by applying to immigrate to the United States, Australia or the United Kingdom.

Emily Gilbert is a writer and researcher based in Devon. She has written two books ‘Changing Identities Latvians, Lithuanians and Estonians in Great Britain’ first published 2013 and ‘Rebuilding Post War Britain: Latvian, Lithuanian and Estonian Refugees in Britain, 1946-51’ published June 2017. Emily gave a presentation to the Wales Baltic Society, in August 2017, about how she carried out her research. Her books are excellent resources for someone looking for detail about the history of Baltic refugees including their experiences after coming to the UK. My mother, on reading ‘Rebuilding Post War Britain’ remarked on how many of the people Emily interviewed had almost identical experiences to her own.

While biographies and history books provide us with a wealth of information, sometimes a well-written historical novel can also educate us.

A Feather on the Water: A Novel by Lindsay Jayne Ashford

Something I had not considered, in reading about DP camps, was the experience of those individuals who found themselves responsible for running the camps. How did they manage, for example, to communicate in languages such as Polish or Latvian? This is why I found ‘A Feather on the Water’ uniquely interesting. Lindsay Jayne Ashford is a writer who has written several books which blend fiction with real events of the twentieth century. Reading her latest novel, we gain insight into not only the harsh realities of life for refugees in a DP camp but also for its administrators. The story follows the lives of three women from different countries with different backgrounds and motivations who responded to an appeal for recruits from the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA) and were offered posts at a camp in southern Germany. They found themselves in charge of a camp occupied by a couple of thousand people, mainly from Poland. They soon learnt that, apart from a couple of guards, the US army presence was planning to leave within a few days.

How these women rise to the challenge; the tragic consequences of the ways some of the refugees have been affected by the war and its aftermath; attempts by the authorities to encourage the Poles to return to their homeland; efforts to reunite families; many issues are dealt with in this book without it becoming tedious or overly depressing.

If you subscribe to Kindle Unlimited on Amazon, A Feather on the Water can be read for free. A paperback version is also available.

Modern-day refugee life. 12 months, four countries, one hope: Afghan refugees settle in Latvia after yearlong odyssey.

‘InfoMigrants’ describes itself as ‘an online news and information site for migrants to counter misinformation at every point of their journey.’ An article on this site illustrates how modern-day refugees can find themselves in very similar situations to those experienced by people displaced by World War 2. I was particularly intrigued because the story was of migrants finding themselves sent to Latvia.

After escaping the Taliban in August 2021, a group of Afghans spent over one year in Kosovo and three other countries, living with great uncertainty before the small Baltic country of Latvia accepted them. InfoMigrants spoke to one of the Afghan refugees who made it to the Latvian capital Riga’.

The full article can be found at https://www.infomigrants.net/en/post/45762/12-months-four-countries-one-hope-afghan-refugees-settle-in-latvia-after-yearlong-odyssey

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