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Olga's Story [Hardcover]

Stephanie Williams
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)

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Book Description

2 Jun 2005
Olga Yunter was born in July 1900 in a remote frontier post in southern Siberia. A girlhood played out against the backdrop of the China trade -- brimming with tea, silk, gold and furs, nomadic herdsmen, and adventures on horseback -- changed forever, when, at seventeen, Olga joined her brothers in their fight against the Bolsheviks. Death and retribution followed. Olga was forced to flee to China, rubies sewn into her petticoats, to save herself. In China she was to find peace only for a short time before the guns of the Second World War drew close and Olga would have to flee once more. She would never hear from her family in Siberia again. From the comfort of her family to the terror of revolution and war, journeys across vast continents in exile, Olga's Story is the breathtaking and heartbreaking tale of the author's grandmother, lived at the heart of the twentieth century.

Product details

  • Hardcover: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Viking (2 Jun 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0670913766
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670913763
  • Product Dimensions: 23.6 x 13.2 x 4.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,426,002 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Stephanie Williams was born in Canada, the daughter of an army officer. Her mother was born in China, to an Englishman and a young Russian refugee who had escaped the brutality of the Bolshevik revolution. Stephanie grew up moving constantly across Canada, Europe and the United States, before taking a degree in history at Wellesley College, Massachusetts and becoming a London-based journalist. Out of a three-year stay in Hong Kong, came the commission to write 'Hongkong Bank', the story of the building of Norman Foster's masterpiece for the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank. This was followed by 'Docklands' in 1993. By this time, perestroika had come to Russia and it was possible to begin to investigate the truth of her Russian grandmother's tumultuous past. Researching and writing 'Olga's Story' took ten years. Stephanie's latest book is 'Running the Show: Governors of the British Empire'.

Product Description


‘Moving and brilliant . . . A heartbreaking story of disaster and survival' -- Sunday Telegraph

‘To write over 200 pages as well as Pasternak is a great thing’ -- The Spectator

‘Well written, passionately researched . . . [Williams has] an uncommon gift for evoking places changed out of all recognition’ -- Sunday Times

‘What Williams has done superbly…is to bring to vibrant life the world of middle- and upper-class Russians in Siberian towns’ -- The Specatator

‘Williams has produced a gripping and…authentic narrative of a life that was at once ordinary and remarkable’ -- Times Literary Supplement

From the Inside Flap

‘Olga took down the precious icon of St Vladimir and lifted it out of its thick silver frame. She sorted through her mother’s jewellery, collected candlesticks and goblets, a samovar and soup tureen, coffee pots, and the large oval platter from which her mother had always served the sterlet on Christmas Eve. She wrapped them in cotton wool, sealed them in oilcloth, and packed them in the leather bags lined with fur that her father had taken to Kamchatka. The rifles were cached beneath her mother’s dowry chest, under the floorboards at the back of the attic. In the yard Kolya and Vasya broke into the frozen soil beneath the pine tree. It took them most of the night to dig a hole deep enough to satisfy themselves. There they buried the silver. The next morning Olga directed the Mongolians delivering the weekly supply of firewood to pile it under the tree. The following weekend, she and her father rode west to a forest where he often went hunting. In an isolated grove, well back from the road, he set about teaching her to shoot.’

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Madame Zhivago 21 Oct 2009
For me, this had the authentic ring of the novel and film Dr. Zhivago about it. It is the story of a girl brought up in Siberia almost on the border with Mongolia, the daughter of well-to-do local merchants. The sweep of wars, revolution, civil war and banditry from 1914 up to 1945 is very interesting, as is the story of her life after she married, rather "below her station" as her father thought(although in Imperial Russia their family position was not high, technically, from a social viewpoint, but she had money...) to an Englishman working for BAT in China. It was interesting to read of the contrast (a shocking one, for her) between the life led by English people of mostly modest origins in China (Shanghai and Tientsin) and the very very modest life the same people came from back in the UK (heating turned off until evening to save money etc).

Written by the grand-daughter of the subject, the book is well worth reading. There was a long list of both published and unpublished sources, including people who had helped the authoress, one of whom was named as Ann Chisholm. Could that be the same lady who was married to a British SIS officer under diplomatic cover and who was, with her husband, tied up with the Penkovsky Affair of the early 1960's?
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Olga's Story 18 Oct 2011
By Sonia
My parents lived in western Siberia during the Bolshevik revolution, from this book I learned what was happening in Central and eastern Siberia as well as China.
My parents escaped in 1921 west through Russia to Poland . My uncle fought with the 5th Polish Siberian Division as rear guard defending the Czech Army fleeing to the East to Vladivostok, but were betrayed Irkutsk and incarcerated in a penal camp on the Jenissey river.
The traditions, the way of live, the food and celebration of Holy days are described same as I remember my parents telling me and as in my mothers' two volumes Destiny and Found Przeznaczenie and Odnalezieni which were best sellers written in Polish in 1937 and I have now translated. I learned things I did not know especially about china and Olga's subsequent journeys.
It is well written and the photos are interesting. I bought it to have for my daughter, grandson and their families to read should they become interested in that subject.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A rich account of a rich and remarkable life 10 Nov 2013
Olga Yunter was born in the summer of 1900 in a small trading outpost on the Siberian steppes. and ahd a happy childhood there, living a life experiencing the rich culture of the many nations that lived in the region.

But as millions of lives were lost in the bloody Russian Revolution of 1917, Olga and her family were caught up in her struggle to save the town from the marauding bloodthirsty Bolsheviks. Olga, with a price on her head for anti-Bolshevik activities was forced to flee Russia for northern China.

She lost her home three times- first to the Bolshevik takeover of Russia, then to the Japanese invasion of China during World War II, and finally to the brutal takeover of China in the late 1940s by the
We learn of the life of her Olga from her childhood in Siberia, where she married an Englishman and lived through invasion and civil war. A rich and eventful life on four continents told told by compassion and passion by the heroine of this true story's granddaughter.
Interesting things we can glean from this book is that a large proportion of the Bolshevik forces during the Russian Civil War (1918-1920) were German and Austrian prisoners of war. The Bolsheviks were from the beginning a movement against the Russian people.
That the Bolsheviks were the first to use cattle cars to transport people to labour camps and forced exile, and that there were various different foreign communities in the northern Chinese town of Tientsin were Olga and her family lived for some years.

The story of a remarkable woman living through earth-shattering and bloody events, and about experiences with people from all different walks of life and the many different nations and traditions with which she came into contact.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Marvellous book! 31 Aug 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Apart from Olga being such an interesting person in herself, the history of that period in Russia and China was fascinating.
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4.0 out of 5 stars fascinating life story 20 May 2013
By Roberto
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
fascinating life story starting in Tsarist Russia, the October revolution, the civil war of white versus red Russia in Siberia during a very turbulent time with intriguing connections to the British.

Kindle version is marred by a tendency to mis the spacing between words so that you may have to do a bit of decoding
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