November 01, 2017

Two Roads from Urzhum

A good mystery begins unexpectedly in the unlikeliest of places. And then it takes you where you never imagined. When the author was ask to help a friend translate a few family keepsakes, he could never have predicted it would take him halfway around the world and more than a hundred years back in time.

Visitors to Arbor Crest winery in Spokane, Washington traverse Fruit Hill Road, an unstriped route with a twisting, vertiginous stretch that hugs the sheer basalt bluff on which the winery sits. It is in this sublime setting that Angie Tann, a sprightly septuagenarian who spent her childhood in Nazi-held Eastern Europe, hands over a manila envelope containing three coarse, worn pieces of paper with Cyrillic text: scholastic records from tsarist-era Urzhum* that had belonged to her babushka, Vera Nefyodovna Klimova.

The first document, Klimova’s diploma from Urzhum Girls High School, identifies her as the daughter of a practicing Orthodox peasant and as a pupil who received top marks, including the highest grade in Zakon Bozhy (“God’s law,” the academic term for Russian Orthodox theology class).

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