A Countess in Limbo

Book Review

Review by Dr. Ted Hunt

History can be written in the loose style of a romantic Hollywood fantasy, or with the numbing heft of a textbook attempting to explain the events of an era.  But instead of these choices, Olga Hendrikoff has left for us the reality of a lost human record which illuminates the personal trials of an entire generation.  Russian aristocrats, whose misfortune it was to be living during the most tumultuous period of the twentieth century — 1914 to 1945 — had to cope in a desperate time of widespread upheaval and titanic social change.  Through Hendrikoff’s forgotten record we are privy to the direct affects on the people caught up in this maelstrom of events.

The source of this review of decades of turmoil, comes from an old trunk discovered in an attic by Sue Carscallen, a Calgary school teacher — and it doesn’t get closer to the ‘unvarnished truth’ than this. Olga Hendrikoff was Carscallen’s great aunt, ‘Lala‘.  Her picture is on the book’s cover as an eighteen year old ‘lady in waiting‘ to Empress Alexandra Feodorovna in 1913.  She wears the classic court dress of a Russian aristrocrat and a broach presented to her by Czar Nicholas II on his yacht.  In the trunk was Lala‘s detailed diary.

Such is the beginning of this attractive historiography which becomes  the account of a noblewoman who faces the horror of two world wars.  ‘A Countess In Limbo’ — as with Anne Frank’s famous record — covers their day-by-day attempts to ‘carry on’ with the their life under the set of circumstances they were given.

‘Lala’ invites us to look out from her own attic window, as her chosen life slips away through the turmoil of two world wars — with all the waste and futility — as the first war — demanding completion — spawns the birth of the second.  The result of this view from a private vista, is the glimpse of a thousand personal problems delivered upon an entire generation, and the attempts to overcome them.

It is not only sobering to witness the destruction of youthful dreams, but also shocking to realize that during the Second World War — although there were twenty-five million deaths world-wide for the military — that the civilian count would be more than double that terrible number.  And we ponder what else could they have done.

Dr. Ted Hunt
author of In the Company of Heroes