Our Backs Warmed by the Sun: Memories of a Doukhobor Life
by Vera Maloff
264 pages, $24.95
If you’ve heard of the Doukhobors of Western Canada, chances are good that the reference had something to do with their headlinegrabbing protests involving arson and nudity. In Our Backs Warmed by the Sun, retired teacher Vera Maloff foregoes sensationalism, instead introducing readers to hard-working, deeply principled people in British Columbia’s Kootenay region who paid dearly for their commitment to peace.
Through interviews with her mother, Leeza (Elizabeth), newspaper accounts, her grandfather’s writings, and other sources, Maloff creates an enjoyable — if often sobering — portrait of people who loved the earth and lived by unyielding principles. Her grandparents, Peter and Lusha Maloff, were imprisoned in 1932 for participating in peaceful protests against the use of taxes for the military. Yes, there was nudity. If the government was going to strip them of their land for their beliefs, some Doukhobors said, then they would strip off their clothing in defiance.
Their children were briefly jailed with them. The government sent Leeza to an industrial school and her younger siblings to orphanages and foster homes, before the family was reunited. Less than a decade later, Peter Maloff was back in jail, where he was repeatedly beaten for refusing to register to serve in the Second World War.
In this engaging book, Vera Maloff shows readers the beauty of a closeknit family and community as well as its members’ stubborn commitment to social justice alongside the ugly treatment they often received. Black-and-white photographs depict the stern, strong people she mentions.