Female World War II Pilots in Historical Fiction – Excerpt Six

I’m very much interested in the psychology of culture and cultural interaction. I wanted to highlight Sasha’s complicated feelings about her homeland: how does her cultural immersion and interaction in Czechoslovakia influence her attitude toward herself and her native culture? What does “home” mean to her? The second excerpt comes from near the end of the story, when Stella is narrating and Sasha has resolved some of these conflicts.

“Tell me more about Russia – about your home.”
Home is a funny thing, Sasha thinks. Leningrad never felt quite like home until she had to leave it; that’s how she feels about Moscow, now. About Russia. Home feels like something that exists only in the past tense, or in the negative. Stella is asking about Sasha’s home because this, right now, very clearly isn’t it – for all that Sasha did not quite belong in Russia, it has unmistakably laid its claim on her. She didn’t think she’d miss it so much. Perhaps, when she’s gone, Russia will miss her, too.

“It’s beautiful,” she says finally. “Everybody say, ‘My country, is most beautiful,’ and I think – I think everybody’s right. Russia is not always – cold, dark, sad.” Desolate, bleak, harsh – these are words she does not have, here. I am smarter than this, she wants to say. “I wish I could show you.”  Stella nods like she understands. “So many colors in the city – old and new all together, a whole world of opposites. Icicles, as big as you. Castles, churches, big buildings like onions, and farms and factories and glory and poverty.” She searches for the right words. “It’s big, loud, larger than life, and still there’s so much we not say, not supposed to feel.” Sasha breathes a laugh. “Sound like somebody you know?

Russia is pogroms and purges, famine and fear. Russia is tyranny and injustice, just like the rest of the world. Russia is the reason Sasha no longer has a father or grandmother, but her father and grandmother are Russia, too – brave, stubborn, ordinary people who spoke their minds over hot black tea and vareniki. Sasha loves Russia and hates herself for it. Sasha is Russia, no matter where she goes or what she does.

Stella knows there’s no point in comparing her choice to Sasha’s. Sasha will never see her mother again, but she’ll see those too-blue eyes every time she catches a glimpse of her reflection. Sasha has forgiven Russia, not forsaken it; perhaps someday Russia will be worthy of Sasha’s patience. There will be no pension, no ticker-tape parade, no more medals for distinguished service. There are millions of women and men who deserve better, in life or in death, than anyone can spare right now. But maybe someday, Stella thinks. Maybe their stories will collect dust for a while, on bookshelves and in photo albums. She’s come to accept that memory, by nature, is not fair. But they’re here, now, and Stella knows they’ll make themselves matter, one way or another.

Maybe one day Russia will celebrate its top female fighter ace. Maybe a woman who looks like Sasha will marry a woman who looks like Stella. Maybe they’ll carve out a place in the history books, or maybe they’ll just simply be missed. There are millions of untold stories, scattered everywhere like stars: and like stars, they shine, whether or not anyone’s looking at them. The world will look, one day, and see what Stella sees: a hero, strong and brave, strange and funny and utterly unique. A trailblazer. The woman she loves – the woman who loves her. Until then, well, Sasha will keep shining, and Stella will love her enough for the rest of the world.