Our blog series “Author Q&A” pulls back the curtain on the historical writing process, introducing local authors and hearing how their stories featuring aspects of British Columbia’s history were inspired.
This week, Monica Miller of Caitlin Press sits down with Vera Maloff the author of “Our Backs Warmed by the Sun: Memories of a Doukhobor Life”. Read more and order a copy online.
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 (Caitlin Press, 2020) 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.
“Granddaughter Vera retraces Peter N. Maloff’s 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,” said ethnographer, writer, and peace activist Koozma J. Tarasoff. “For those who dare to actively work for peace and truth, this is a book for you”.
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. With never-before-seen photos and striking archival images, this story is a powerful reminder that the ideals of peace, community and “love thy neighbour” are core values and continue to be relevant today.
Q: Why is now the time to tell this story?
At this time many around the world are speaking out against racism and brutality. This story about my family and my Doukhobor people is about how they stood up for justice and peace in their time through nonviolent actions, despite governmental and societal retribution.
Q: What did you learn about yourself, your family, and the Doukhobor community during the process of writing your book?
I gained a deep respect and empathy for members of my family and an understanding of the difficult road they tread. Their lives and the lives of us, their children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren were molded by the choices they made.
In the process of writing the book, I learned that when the time is ripe for a story to be told, it will be. So it was with Mother’s stories. During the five and more years I took to write the book, when it was needed, people “showed up” to support the writing in many ways. Working with this group of people, from diverse backgrounds was truly enriching and rewarding and a gift in itself.
Q: What was the most difficult part of telling this story?
For me telling the story was an act of love for my family. However, my mother and my aunts at times would have preferred to forget their long buried memories. Sharing those dark moments was at times painful for them, especially when they had been blocking grief and agony for years. They did so with dignity, without regret or blame. I hope I have done their memories justice.
Q: Who inspires you, and why?
I have been inspired by my grandfather. He was caring and passionate about leaving the world a better place than one he was born into, a world without war and deprivation. He had strong principles that he stood by, but he also had an open mind and connected with and understood people of different outlooks, ideologies and faiths.
Q: What do you hope readers will get out of, or connect with, in your book?
I hope that readers will develop an understanding of the diversity of Doukhobor lives and go beyond the bizarre news reports that have dominated Doukhobor topics in the past.
I hope they can understand the passion that drove my grandfather, to act on his conscience, even when sacrificing the best interests of his family.
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.