No Time to Cry
Vera Leinvebers renames herself ‘Lara’ in a barely successful attempt to distance herself from the violent, distressing wartime years of her childhood. In an intimately personal narrative, Lara recaptures the memory of how, shortly before she turned seven-years-old, the Nazis invaded her Latvian homeland in the Baltic and it soon became the scene of displacement, imprisonment, and slaughter. She and her parents fled from their middle-class home, hiding in the forest, hungry and terrified. The winter months were especially cruel when freezing temperatures added unremitting cold to their fear.
Despite her later success as an international concert pianist, Leinvebers may still glance at a snowy landscape from the train as she travels on a concert tour and in a trice see herself as a little girl hiding among murdered corpses in the countryside to avoid being shot or captured. She recalls brutality becoming commonplace as the soldiers – all but one – behaved with unwarranted cruelty. The ordeal caused her to lose her inability to speak for a time. Her unique talisman with her former life was a small stone, a pebble, which she held hidden in her pocket until it was eventually lost in the chaos that surrounded her, even as the violence began to ebb.
In skillful transitions from a stream of consciousness to orderly memoir, the book captures the reality of the early 1940s, then describes far happier postwar treatment with adoptive families in Denmark and later Canada, when kindness restored hope for a more stable future. Some of her saviors are identified by name, others unidentified but accorded the same tribute of thanks, not only for the warmth they showed her, but also for ensuring she had a piano on which she could escape the trauma with hours of practice.
Alongside the larger memories, pages reveal closely personal details, her joy in nature – especially the sound of the breeze in differing tree species, her table tennis skill, the wartime newspaper shoes when even newspapers were hard to find, seawater slaking her thirst on the ferry to freedom. Such revelations bring the author close to us, a woman whose success has not obliterated the evil she experienced as she shares her story.
The reader is humbled by two lasting impressions. Firstly, the affects of World War II reached beyond a single religion or geographic region, and, secondly, recognizing how the mind flirts coyly with memories, allowing poetic license without blame.