The Amber Coast

Stories of a Latvian family’s journey by Ilse Zandstra is a compelling family saga that resonates with tales of peace and war, loss and displacement, immigration, language acquisition and culture shock.

A work of creative non-fiction, the story unfolds against a background of historical events. It is the story of one family’s flight from war-torn Latvia, its struggle to survive, and then, to gather strength and begin again in a new country--first in Sweden and then in Canada.

What sets this narrative apart from other immigrant stories, however, is the author’s fortuitous return to Latvia in the summer of 1990, just as the small Baltic country teeters on the brink of freedom from the Soviet Union. Optimism abounds. Change is in the air. Long-separated relatives meet, many for the first time, and the past becomes vividly present. Recollected stories are told in an effort to understand and validate each person’s experience. Steeped in nostalgia for the homeland and a longing to someday return, it is a story that any immigrant can relate to.

As her visit to Latvia progresses, the author begins to realize just how much these faraway places, and long-ago events have influenced her life, and in particular, she comes to better understand the members of her family – a courageous father, a strong-willed grandmother who fled but then chose to return, an uncle banished to Siberia, a brave aunt who defies authority, those relatives who escaped and those who chose to stay. All have been marked by a turbulent history.
The story itself unfolds in Latvia, Germany, Sweden and Canada. In the section on Canada, the author describes growing up in a Latvian family and belonging to the Montreal Latvian community, while being drawn to the Canadian world of school and neighbourhood around her.

She is caught between two worlds. It is the classical immigrant dilemma. A major theme throughout the book is freedom, and the risks taken and sacrifices made to hold on to that freedom. Through her evocative writing, the author draws us in and we discover the events of the past that have influenced her life along with her own Canadian story. Much of the narrative is based on conversations, letters, documents, tape-recorded remembrances, and newspaper clippings.

“The Amber Coast reflects a highly knowledgeable, solidly researched and informative treatment of the context in which the characters move.”

“The author demonstrates a firm grasp of detail and a fine instinct for narrative flow.”