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Cry for Someone Else

How do books tell the world’s bad news to children? The answer that comes first to my mind is “inadvertently!” While writing The Endless Steppe, I never thought of it as bad news. It was a personal story of our hardships during World War II and of our survival against heavy odds. I did not try to frame reality when I began writing about living for nearly six years in Siberia. I shared our sadness and pain, but hope was always there, too.

Dorothy Canfield Fisher once said: “It’s so much easier to cry over someone else’s troubles.” when I first heard this I was reminded of weeping over Little Dorrit and Domhey and Son, by Charles Dickens. (Russian translations were part of the tiny library on the steppe!) Eva Dombey’s unhappiness in the midst of wealth, and Dorrit’s misery in a London poorhouse resonated for me more than a story about a poor and hungry girl in Siberia might have. I seldom cried over our own troubles; crying over Eva and Dorrit must have relieved some of my tension. Who’d ever think that these 19th century novels would be helpful in my situation? By that same token, who can know what may help readers of today?

A boy wrote to me from Oregon in 1994: “I wanted to cry when I read your book. But we read it in class so I did not cry…It seems weird that people like to read about other people’s tragedies. I guess it teaches them something.” And often it brings unexpected solace, healing, and hope.

Esther Rudomin Hautzig, who lives in New York, was born in Vilna. She has written over 20 books; most recently A Picture of Grandmother (Farrar, Strauss & Giroux, 2002).