The book often has a dreamy quality of reverie or incantation, as Verzemnieks reconstructs, imagines and inhabits other people’s memories and accounts of war and flight. It requires a kind of attention that can be difficult to sustain, despite the beauty on almost every page. But this book is important. We are now experiencing another global refugee crisis. Among the Living and the Dead shows the consequences of being forced from home — how that loss is passed through the generations, as children and grandchildren struggle to build their lives ... At its most basic, war breaks connections. This exquisitely written book shows how recovery can come generations later through rebuilding connections — to people, the natural world, the past.
With narratives as dreamy and nightmarish as a living Grimms’ fairy tale, the book is a family biography of her grandmother and great-aunt. The personal story is seamlessly backed by the author’s deep research, from scholarly papers to records found in 'a file in an unmarked warehouse located at the end of an unpaved service road in Riga' ... [a] magical combination of history and personal history.
Verzemnieks, a former journalist, is a gracious writer, inviting the readers on her journey into the past. Yet she does so with few guideposts along the way — the book lacks a table of contents and photographs, and its chapters have no titles, just Roman numerals, stark elements of the past. This gives the memoir’s progression, as it moves between present and past, an inscrutable feel, for better or worse. However, armed with her wealth of knowledge in Latvian history and myths, and her masterful and lush observations, Verzemnieks remains an able guide, earning our undivided attention and admiration.