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Ljuba Arnautovic: Junischnee.

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June Snow. Novel.
Vienna: Zsolnay, 2021.

192 pages; EUR 22,70.
ISBN 978-3-552-07224-4.

Ljuba Arnautovic


After her well-received debut, Im Verborgenen (Hidden, 2018), Ljuba Arnautovic, the Viennese author born in Kursk, has published her second novel based on a family history that could not be more dramatic. With this book, she has written a probing portrait of her father and at the same time a captivating history of the "Schutzbund children" [the children of Austrian anti-fascists sent to the Soviet Union, -trans.], the USSR in the ‘40s and ‘50s, and post-war Vienna.
A few days before the start of the new year, 1960, Karl Arnautovic is waiting for the train at Hohenau on the March, the last station at the border between Czechoslovakia and Austria, waiting for the coach from Moscow. He’s looking forward to seeing his wife Nina and their two children. Karl Arnautovic himself was responsible for the pell-mell departure of the mother and first-born child years earlier. He has promised a harmonious new beginning, but he is carrying out a secret mission. One of the two girls Karl Arnautovic is waiting to greet at the station on this winter evening is the author herself, Ljuba Arnautovic.
June Snow deals with a little-known chapter of twentieth century European-Russian history. Its descriptions of daily life in the Soviet Union are particularly poignant, for example of people overwhelmed by despair after Stalin’s death, when the country is truly plunged into mourning.
All of this is recounted by the author in long passages of sober, unadorned language, complemented by the inclusion of original documents from Soviet archives and Karl Arnautovic’s estate that add a documentary element. Yet the book’s well-balanced composition allows for a personal as well as a documentary tone, for example through the imaginary letters written by the author’s father to his mother, his wife, and his mistress.
Ljuba Arnautovic draws an arc from the 1930s to the 1960s, shifting between locations in Austria and the Soviet Union, arranging prose passages, fictitious letters, notes, and archival material to create a coherent portrait of her father. Luckily for us, the author is already working on part three of her family history.

Excerpt of the review by Ursula Ebel, March 8, 2021,
Translation by Laura Radosh

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