Yesterday I posted my review for the historical novel, The Russian Tapestry by Australian author Banafsheh Serov. She lives in Sydney, with her husband and sons, and owns and manages a small chain of bookshops. Banafsheh is also the author of Under a Starless Sky, the true story of her family’s escape from Iran. Today, Banafsheh has kindly stopped by to talk about what inspired her to write The Russian Tapestry.
How the Serov family history inspired The Russian Tapestry.
At our wedding the pastor commented that it took two revolutions to bring my husband and me together. Following the Islamic Revolution, my family fled Iran during Iran/Iraq war, crossing the border illegally into neighbouring Turkey. Half a century earlier, my husband’s grandparents fled the Bolsheviks in a similar fashion as the Red Army annexed Estonia.
I first came across the story of Alexei and Marie Serov 25 years ago when I started dating my husband. Visiting his family home I was struck by a painting of a military man, with an uncanny resemblance to my husband, in full dress uniform and sporting a breast full of medals. Intrigued by the portrait, I queried as to his identity and was told that the portrait was of my husband’s grandfather, Alexei Serov.
Part of the Russian nobility, Alexei’s family owned large estates and boasted court painters and musical composers in their midst. Further conversations revealed Alexei was a General in the Tsar’s Imperial army and had fought on the Eastern Front during the Great War. Forced to join the Soviet Reds during the Civil War, Alexei later escaped, traversing through snow and blizzard to reach Lithuania.
Similarly Marie was also part of Russia’s social elite. Daughter of a wealthy Estonian merchant, she was schooled in languages at a Swiss boarding school and was in her third year of studying Law in St Petersburg when the revolution forced her to abandon her studies. She and her family endured eight months of hardship when the Germans invaded their homeland only to see them replaced by the much more brutal and harsh Soviet Red army.
The parallel lives that led to both families migrating to Australia fascinated me. Like me, Alexei and Marie possessed a migrant heart. They travelled half the world to start life anew in a foreign land, with little more than their hopes and dreams to sustain them. As a long-time lover of Russian literature, I started imagining their life and as their story started to take shape, I was swept away by the romance of the period and the tragedy of the war that followed it.
I believe each of us has a story that we carry silently within us, protecting it in the womb of our soul. Australia is the sum of all our stories, some ancient, some new. As the custodians of these narratives, it is our duty to keep alive the memory of our ancestors’ in the consciousness of the future generations. The Russian Tapestry is such a story. It’s the weaving and threading of anecdotes recited at family dinners with lessons in history. It is the bringing together and unlocking of the soul’s womb. It is the sharing of the stories that bind us.
Sadly, I never met Alexei or Marie but I hope that by telling their story, I have done justice to their memory and kept alive their legacy in the hearts and minds of their children, and their children’s children.