For many, the Doukhobor story is a sensational one: arson, nudity and civil disobedience once made headlines. But it isn't the whole story. Our Backs Warmed by the Sun: Memories of a Doukhobor Life is an intricately woven, richly textured memoir of a family's determination to live in peace and community in the face of controversy and unrest.
When author Vera Maloff set out to find the truth about her family's history, she knew something of the struggles of living a pacifist, agrarian life in a world with opposing values. To find the bones of that history she turned to her mother Elizabeth, who, in her nineties, had forgotten nothing.
In Our Backs Warmed by the Sun, the author, through the stories of her mother, describes a wholly activist life. The Doukhobors--both the Sons of Freedom and moderate sects--led anti-military protests throughout the early 1900s, harboured draft dodgers in the 60s, and stood up for their beliefs. In response, they were hosed down, arrested, and jailed.
Vera learns of the confusion and fear when, as a child, Elizabeth and her family were interned in an abandoned logging camp while their father served time in Oakalla prison for charges related to a peaceful protest, and of her loneliness when, later, she was institutionalized--one of a series of Canadian government efforts in assimilation. By removing the children, it was believed, the cycle of protest and resistance could be broken.
Tracing the Doukhobor movement from Russia, the author explores the spiritual influence of its leaders. She does not shy away from the controversial actions of the Sons of Freedom in the darkest days of bombings and arson, or the toll on families and communities, probing with a historian's curiosity and a daughter's tenderness.
Elizabeth's story is also one of a small but thriving Kootenay community, and of the experiences of a family who stood by their beliefs. Laughter, ingenuity and tenacity are offered up in the pages of Our Backs Warmed by the Sun, an important and engaging window into our collective history.
Vera Maloff was born into a Doukhobor family in the Kootenay valley of British Columbia. Her writing reflects the influence of her grandparents, who were active in the peace movement and befriended the American draft resisters, alternative healing practitioners, and social justice advocates who were regular visitors to their market garden farm. After retiring from a career in teaching, Vera began to record family stories passed down from generations. Her essays have been published in the Doukhobor magazine Iskra, in the West Kootenay Journal and in The New Orphic Review. Vera lives with her partner Steve in the community of Shoreacres on the Slocan River, where she continues the family traditions of gardening, singing in Doukhobor community choirs, and participating in peace gatherings and cooking groups.
"Vera Maloff's story of her grandfather Peter N. Maloff (1900-1972) is a delightful reading about Canada's neglected history on the conscience of the Doukhobors. Peter deeply followed his ancestor's principles of nonkilling, compassion and love, that it is wrong to kill another human being because we all share the spirit of God/love in every person. As a devout vegetarian, an enthralling emotional speaker, during WWII and the Cold War, Peter condemned militarism, exploitation, and war resulting in arrests, jailings and torture in Canadian jails. Granddaughter Vera retraces his turbulent life through manuscripts, newspapers, and interviews with family members and others--giving us a picture of what it was like for him and his family and friends to go against the grain. For those who dare to actively work for peace and truth, this is a book for you."
--Koozma J. Tarasoff, ethnographer, writer, peace activist, and blogger resides in Ottawa, Ontario. Koozma knew Peter N. Maloff, wrote about him, participated in peace activities, and shared similar values. www.spirit-wrestlers.com
"A brilliant domestic portrait of Doukhobor life and love, crafted with much affection and yet also with a deep scrutiny of the social and political conventions of the era. Our Backs Warmed by the Sun is both a family and community saga, and an intimate, compelling tribute to extraordinary people."
--Andrew Scott, award-winning author of The Promise of Paradise
"Our Backs Warmed by the Sun is a family memoir that tells broader histories of the migrations and social justice politics of Doukhobor communities. Following her family's journey from Russia to the United States, and finally in the West Kootenays, British Columbia, Vera Maloff adds intimate details to what we know about the marginalization of Doukhobors because of their conscientious objection to war and pacifism during intensely nationalist times. These stories have been preserved across generations of women while working in market gardens and baking bread, by children eavesdropping on adult conversations, and conversations intended to preserve family and community histories. Recording painful and happy memories of three generations of the Maloff-Hoodicoff family, this book illustrates the interconnectedness of family stories and global politics."
--Dr. Nancy Janovicek, Dept. of History, University of Calgary