Eva Maria Chapman

Reviews

Sasha & Olga

Sasha and Olga

Review for Adelaide Advertiser for Saturday 20th May 2006, by Chris Schacht

(Chris Schacht was former ALP senator and now heads a weekly Adelaide political radio programme)

Recently I finished reading an acclaimed book by Simon Montefiore called ĎStalin The Court of the Red Tsarí. This book describes in dreadful detail the Stalinist regime in the USSR with all its horrific purges, murders and gulags. But after reading Sasha and Olga by South Australian author, Eva Chapman, I got first-hand what Stalinís psychotic policies did to ordinary people. Sasha and Olga are Evaís parents who grew up in the Ukraine in the Soviet Union in the 20ís and 30ís and came to Australia after the Second World War as refugees.

Only the pitiless will not be emotionally moved and affected by this well-written book. Only the most cynical will not be moved to tears. In Sasha and Olga, Eva Chapman has described her parents with their full range of human foibles.

This book has four major themes. Firstly how Sasha and Olga survived the Stalinist purges and the Nazi holocaust to come to South Australia as refugees; secondly, the experiences of a migrant family living in Adelaide in the 50ís and 60ís including her motherís mental illness and experiences in Glenside Mental Hospital; thirdly, the disintegration of Evaís family and her 30 years estrangement from her family and fourthly the reconciliation with her father after 30 years and her journey of discovery to find her relatives in the Ukraine.

This wonderfully written book is a must read. To read how ordinary people coped with the unmitigated horror of famine, political persecution and the purges of Stalinís USSR of the 20ís and 30ís and then the appalling barbarity of the German invasion and occupation, followed at warís end of the displaced in refugee camps is overwhelming. To learn how such battered survivors came to live in a staid and boring Adelaide of the 50ís, haunted all the rest of their lives by what they had experienced should not be ignored by any Australian.

Australia of the 50ís could be a cruel place for refugee migrants as most Australians were blissfully ignorant of what these so-called New Australians had been through. Fortunately for Sasha and Olga they did not arrive in Australia under our current refugee policy as they would have been incarcerated in some so-called detention centre, little different from the camps they left in Europe, or worse, ended up on some remote Pacific island.

Eva Chapmanís account of her family estrangement and her rapprochement with her father in the last few years of his life are as personally moving as anything I have read.

Evaís beautiful mother Olga slowly being destroyed by mental illness is a tragic and poignant account. Her incarceration in Glenside and the treatment she received as a patient is sickening. Despite all the social progress of the Dunstan decade at the time the treatment of the mentally ill at Glenside is a stain on all of us. I hope the South Australian Minister for Mental Health reads this book and makes sure that Glenside is no longer the horror it was in the 60ís and 70ís.

Evaís descriptions of her visits to the Ukraine and her ultimate success in finding her relatives, like the rapprochement with her father, is the most optimistic part of her lifeís history. Her relatives who are all overwhelmingly poor if not poverty-stricken are amazingly generous and warm-hearted to their long-lost cousin or niece. As Eva points out, despite their poverty, her Ukrainian relatives are more generous and openhearted than those of us in the affluent west. She has found her roots which makes so much of her familyís pain now more bearable.

The personality of Sasha Levkowicz, Evaís father, in the end is the one to which the reader keeps returning. He arrived in South Australia in the early 50ís as a penniless migrant. He died fifty years later a millionaire. Despite his wealth he could never forget the privations of his childhood and as a result lived a life of great frugality. Every morning he would remove the plastic wrapped around the Advertiser and save it to wrap up the food for his pet cat. Through his life he would go to the Central Market late on Saturday so that he could buy the cheapest vegetables. Partially deaf he bought a hearing aid for 50cents at an auction which he used for the rest of his life. Even in the year 2000 all his household appliances were the original ones bought in the 50ís and 60ís.

It is remarkable that we had living amongst us in South Australia a family who had terrible tale to tell; we should all be grateful that Eva Chapman had the dedication, honesty and courage to write this familyís story and thereby enrich us all.

Testimonials

'I just finished your book and wanted to tell how much I loved it. It was very moving for me, because it brought lots of memories of my childhood. There are so many similarities in our stories, in some of our relatives. And I admire you so much for your strength and will to heal your family and go through all that hard work. I myself give up very easily on my relationships and you really inspired me.'~ Victoria Mullova - Russian violinist
'I loved it. I admire the broad scope of it; it's so much more than just a personal memoir. I sighed, groaned, laughed and cried my way through it. Wow!'~ Wendy Noble - South Australian writer
'I am deeply impressed with the scale of the work, its emotional depth and its coherence as a literary product.'~ Wallace McCittrick - Adelaide poet
'A vitally important family chronicle and remarkable story of courage, suffering, survival, loyalty and love, An amazing, and well-written catharsis that is rich in research, experience and an abiding love of all humanity both familial and universal.'~ Peter Wilkins - Theatre director in Canberra Australia
'I must congratulate you for your excellent book. It has take a lot of guts to write it all down and I really admire you very much. I have to say the book has been so easy to read, I am just flowing through it. I read it on the bus to work and back to home again. Then before I go to sleep, in bed. What will I do when it is finished?. You have a fantastic gift which you have shown in your wonderful book.'~ Irene Phillips - daughter of Ukrainian refugees, Adelaide
'I had to write to you. I was attracted to your book as my own mother was called Olga. I couldn't believe the parallels to our story. Your story is amazing and I feel I know you so well from reading your exciting well written page turner of a book.'~ Irena Chawinsky - fellow refugee who came out on the same ship, Melbourne
'I totally recommended this book as a story, as heart moving heart healing, and as an inspiration for anyone concerned with ancestral and family healing. I wept buckets, laughed out loud, was inspired, moved and educated. I couldnít put it down.'~ Susannah Darling Khan - Director of Movement Medicine UK
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