a memoir by Syr Ruus

225 Pages
October 27, 2018

Krambambuli is a memoir of the author’s childhood experiences during and subsequent to World War II. She documents three stages of displacement due to war: escaping destruction in Estonia, living as a refugee in Germany and Austria, and beginning a new life as an immigrant first in the United States, and later in Canada. Krambambuli is not meant to be a historical account. Rather, it offers a child’s perspective of the situations and people making up her early existence: her handsome and charming father, Isa, who sweeps into her life at intervals but provides no financial support; her disciplinarian mother, Ema, an optimist and extremely competent survivor who uses her creativity to make even a small rudimentary space attractive and homey; the hated Onu Gusti; and the many others who pass through this transitory time dominated by war. The book is a moving account of child’s experience in a camp for displaced persons and of growing up as a displaced child and daughter of a single mother in America. Totsu, the child, is terrorized by the war and the disruption and fears losing her mother’s love to a male lover and the possibility of being displaced by a half-sibling. She endures multiple new school and language situations and the added angst that being a displaced person can add to the life of a teenager. With such different personalities, she and her mother live their lives in both conflict, and in the knowledge that they are all each other has.

“Syr Ruus’s story of loss, belonging and complicated love brims with fierce awareness and hard-won compassion. With incisive detail and remarkable insight. Ruus recalls her wartime childhood in Estonia, her coming of age under the watchful eye of a beloved and impossible mother, and the realities of years of displacement. This captivating memoir shines a light on a universal question: where is home?”

—Lorri Neilsen Glenn, award-winning author of Following the River: Traces of Red River Women

“After witnessing her family’s flight from their native Estonia, her childhood in displaced person’s camps and her lonely years as a young refugee in North America, I will not soon forget Totsu, the child at the centre of Krambambuli, or her indomitable mother. I am moved by their fear and deep sense of homelessness, the courage and humour that brought them through and their determination never to forget who they are.”

—Anne Bishop, author of Becoming an Ally and Beyond Token Change as well as the forthcoming novel, Under the Bridge

Krambambuli is an impressive story about what it means to be a refugee. Syr Ruus writes in a simple, direct style about the harsh reality she had to face as a child and this makes her memoir heartbreaking. She enters into conversation with her mother and writes very honestly about all hopes and disillusions the difficult relationship entailed. Krambambuli is about loss and the struggle to continue and to build up a new life. It is a book in which many of the stories resonate and leave you wondering and that is what all great books are about.”

—Helga Merits, documentary filmmaker, Coming Home Soon – The Refugee Children of Geislingen

Syr Ruus was born in Tallinn, Estonia, during the Second World War. As a small child, she escaped with her mother to Germany and subsequently immigrated to the United States where she earned an MA in English, an MS in Education, and taught briefly in the English Department of Illinois State University.  She moved to Nova Scotia in 1968 where she worked as an elementary school teacher while raising her three children before devoting herself full-time to writing. Her short fiction has appeared in anthologies and journals. Her 2006 novel, Lovesongs of Emmanuel Taggart, won the Writer’s Federation of N.S. H. R. (Bill) Percy Prize. Since then, she published three books of fiction inspired by the South Shore of Nova Scotia: Devil’s Hump (2013), The Story of Gar (2014), shortlisted for the Ken Klonsky Novella Award, and In Pleasantry (2016). Her novella, Walls of the Cave, is forthcoming in 2019.


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