Snow Moon Rising, set in Europe during World War II, is an intimate glimpse of the seasons of Mischka Gallo's life. From her happy childhood, in spite of social injustice and bigotry against the Roma people (derogatorily referred to as Gypsies), Mischka maintains her innocence through her mid-teens. Only later does reality harden her. She displays a zest for life and heroic strength, believing that "Everyone should feel the love, enjoy the exhilaration life afforded. [O]ver time she came to realize that each soul needs its own private place and solitude to nourish both joy and pain" (p. 2). It is this optimism that allows Snow Moon Rising to inspire us, rather than let us be defeated by the malice Mischka faces.
Many fictional stories are based on the atrocities of Hitler's regime, but Lori L. Lake uses an uncommon perspective, telling the story from the Roma and German point of view, and then adding a refreshing twist. Without gratuitous sex or violence, Lake succeeds in writing an emotionally charged, action-packed, and authentic story. Her tight, crisp narrative flows seamlessly as Mishka, at eighty, recounts her life's experiences to her fifteen-year-old grandson, Tobar. As the events unfold, it's easy to imagine her world. Mischka says to Tobar, "I don't want to end your childhood with sad stories, but remember, after darkness there is always light. Just like after the moon disappears, the sun always rises" (p. 5). Throughout Lake's novel, the theme that resonates most isn't the bleakness you might expect, but rather, hope.
The relationship between Mischka and Pauline (Pippi) Stanek, as friends and lovers, spans seventy-one years. Pippi is the sister of a wounded AWOL German soldier, Emil. The Roma clan adopted Emil when Mischka was a child, and he became a beloved cousin of Mischka. It is through Emil that Mischka and Pippi meet for the first time. The connection and kinship they feel is immediate. The two young girls make a vow to remain friends, forever bonded by heart, spirit, and soul. It seems theirs was an unlikely union: not only was homosexuality considered a sin punishable by death, but also both women end up on opposite sides during the war. Pippi knew Hitler to be the madman that he was, but what choice did she have when the Third Reich summoned her and ordered her to serve at a labor camp? One wonders how many unwilling German guards and soldiers were as much a victim of the war as the prisoners.
In Snow Moon Rising, Lake carefully balances the storyline, choosing only the scenes that move the plot along. The immediacy and transparency, as the story unfolds, allow the reader to engage both emotions and intellect. The reader not only understands the horrid situation-but also feels deeply along with Mischka, her people, and Pippi as well. The narrative summaries don't lecture, but rather convey feelings, making the scenes compelling. This reviewer imagines what it must have been like in Mischka's camp: the sounds, the smells, the tastes. Even though written in English, you feel like they are speaking a foreign language, without having to sift through a lot of cumbersome dialect. The Roma and German phrases add to the story and set the tone for readers who are fluent in any language.
One would think it depressing to be Mischka in those days. A Roma woman was like chattel without civil rights; however, as we watch Mischka before she was forced into marriage, and later, thrown into a concentration camp, we see her as a light in a dark world. She maintained her dignity in the face of inhumane treatment as her means to fight the enemy. Snow Moon Rising reminds this reviewer of a photograph. Mischka thinks, "Memories surfaced, and pictures rose up from hidden recesses, not in the sepia tones she so often remembered, but stark, bright, vital, and as colorful as modern photographs" (p. 5). Lake tells, and shows, Mischka's story with clear and vivid details, which remain bright despite her often dismal surroundings.
The impressive bibliography at the back of the book makes clear Lake's extensive research. Snow Moon Rising is easily her most accomplished work to date. The novel has already won the Alice B. Reader's Appreciation Award 2007 and is nominated for numerous other awards. Fans of fiction containing historical truth will cherish this novel, and it would be a fine addition to any library.
Lori L. Lake is the author of six novels, a book of short stories, and the editor of two anthologies. She is a 2007 recipient of the Alice B. Reader Appreciation Award, and in addition to a 2005 Lambda Literary Finalist in the anthology category, Lori has been the recipient of nine Stonewall Society Literary Awards. Have Gun We'll Travel was a 2006 Golden Crown Literary Award Finalist, Snow Moon Rising is currently a 2007 Golden Crown Literary Award finalist, as is the anthology Romance for LIFE (Co-Editor with Tara Young). The readers of Lavender Magazine have twice named her Twin Cities OutStanding GLBT Author.
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