Wednesday, July 1, 2015


Today's Wednesday Wonders guest author is Pam Atherstone featuring her novel, ...Like Footprints in the Wind. On a personal note, I met Pam when she spoke at the Merced County Genealogical Society on the topic of Germans in Russia genealogy research. Motivated by her research, she wrote a novel based on the experiences  this group of German-Russian citizens suffered when "Papa Stalin" declared them enemies of the state. She offered her book for sale at our meeting, I bought a copy, and I started reading it once I arrived home. I couldn't put it down until I finished it.

Click HERE for the YouTube trailer.

About the Novel:

Few people know about the “purge of the Kulaks” in Russia, as this is a suppressed part of history.  Based on real stories of people who actually lived through this terrible time, the fictional Jahnle family is falsely “evacuated” from their farm in a small village near the Black Sea, and begins their journey north, into the unknown, with many other German-Russian families like them.  It is nearly harvest season of 1929.  Not understanding what is happening to them, the family experiences adventure at the beginning of their trek, as they traverse the first four hundred miles by horse and wagon.   

During this trip they come into contact with the NKVD (the People's Commissariat of Internal Affairs, which later becomes the foundation of the KGB.)  They are loaded into an overcrowded cattle-car on a very long train and taken nearly nine-hundred miles to the labor camps on the coast of the White Sea, near the town of Onega, in western Siberia. Here they are exposed to separation, interrogation, starvation, over-work, cruelty and death.    

The ever-present love of the family members for one another, combined with the solid foundation of their faith in God, runs like a fine silk thread holding them together through the worst of situations, and yet doubt and disbelief often permeate their souls.  But this story is not all doom and gloom.  There is hope and the promise of a better life for some of them.      

Novel Excerpt: 

Sofia stopped and faced Katerina; tears welled up in her pale blue eyes as she, too, removed her facial covering. “Katerina you are as close to me as anybody has ever been. You are friend, companion, partner and confidant. If we were sisters we could not be closer. So I feel you already know the answer to your question. The Soviets do not care about any of us, we will never know what has happened to our children or husbands or any of our people. Future generations will never know we even existed…” she paused and turned Katerina to face the path they had just traversed. The wind was blowing loose snow over their tracks. Sofia’s voice trailed away as she continued, “we will all just vanish…like footprints in the wind.”

About the Author:

Pamela Atherstone

I am the great-granddaughter of German-Russian immigrants and an amateur genealogist focusing on Russians of German heritage. I’m a member of the American Historical Society of the Germans from Russia and the Germans from Russia Heritage Society, as well as the Genealogical Society of Stanislaus County. I attend the Writers Workshop at the Modesto Institute of Continued Learning (MICL) where I enjoy combining my love of family with my love of horses in the stories I write.

I am a mother and grandmother. A lifelong Californian, I live in the Central Valley of California with my husband, Jim, and my horses and dogs.

Author Q & A: 
Ukraine Dress - 1912

1. What inspired you to become a writer?
            Information from Russia on family members, who remained behind when my great-grandparents emigrated, seems to be non-existent.  The stories I unearthed regarding the history of the Germans in Russia, following the Revolution of 1917, explained these gaping holes and the lack of recorded information about the people.  Knowledge of those inhabitants, and what they experienced, is relatively unknown among the general populations today, and the more I learn, the more I wish to share the information with others.

 2. How long did it take you to acquire the skills to become a writer?
            I never set out to write a book.  Selected as Rebecca’s Reads Choice Awards Fiction Book of the Year 2013, and first place Historical Fiction, and a finalist in the Reader’s Favorite International Book Awards, this venture came as a result of being forced into disability retirement.  Needing something to keep me busy during a life-changing transition, I discovered the Modesto Institute of Continued Learning (MICL) at Modesto Junior College, and the Writer’s Workshop offered in the curriculum. This program is geared toward retirees as a place to go to continue the learning process in many project areas. I began writing short vignettes, some memoirs and others pure fiction, whatever popped into my mind when I sat down to my computer.  One evening I began writing about a farmer in Russia (based on my great-grandfather) and soon realized I was going far beyond a short story. 
German-Russians being removed from their farms
3. How many books have you written?
            This is my first, but I am in the process of completing a sequel.  I also have a couple of others started for future completion.     

4. Some writers go on long walks; others keep a journal, write at a café, or listen to music. What do you do for inspiration and unleashing your creativity?
            With the first book, I spent many hours in the local Border’s Book Store.  I don’t know why, but I could concentrate on my writing there.  Now that the store has closed, I am struggling for quiet time at home.  I often write late at night, when there are few interruptions. 
German-Russians traveling in wagon trains to collection points

5. What are you working on now?
            The sequel to “…Like Footprints in the Wind.”  When the book ends, the main characters are in a limbo situation, waiting for passage to America.  The book I am currently working on will take them to a new life in a new land.

Author Links: 

Website  |  Facebook  |  Goodreads  |  Pinterest  | 

Purchase Links:

Bonus Excerpt:

            This night seemed cooler than previous ones. The waning moon shed little light upon those who slept beneath it.  Sometime after midnight, Johannes was awakened by the sound of the car’s tires as they slowly rolled by.  He lay still as he heard the car stop and someone get out.  The crunching of boot soles on gravel gave him a chill as he knew they were approaching him.  He felt the cold hard steel of a rifle barrel being pushed into his shoulder. A hushed voice growled “Shhh,” in his ear.  Johannes rolled out from under his blanket without disturbing Katerina.  He pulled his boots on and followed the beckoning uniform to the car.  The rifle was now jabbing into his back, pushing him into the automobile.

            “I don’t know what you want, but I won’t resist you,” Johannes spoke softly as he entered the dark interior of the vehicle.  “I only ask that you do not hurt my family.”

          Johannes was pushed into the back seat of the big black sedan.  He nearly choked as he drew his first breath; the air was filled with the acrid smoke of a cheap Russian cigarette.

Mealtime at the work camps

         Half of the seat was already occupied by a rotund, uniformed officer, his face briefly illuminated by the orange glow of the cigarette as he inhaled deeply.  Johannes kept his eyes averted from the man’s face; he did not want to see who might be responsible for whatever might be coming.  Though, he did notice the insignia on his companion’s sleeve—the sword-entwined hammer and sickle of the NKVD.  This was not a regular soldier of the Russian army, but a member of the secret police.  He again felt the cold steel of a gun barrel in his side, a silent reminder he was not in control and that he should do as he was told.

            The car unhurriedly rolled through the village.  Johannes wondered if this was an attempt to antagonize him in some way, or if his arrest was being kept silent for some special reason.  He knew he would soon find out.  He wanted to look out the windows, to get a better idea of the size of the village and the location of the railroad tracks, but each time he started to lift his eyes, the gun barrel sank further into his ribs. 
            Finally, the car pulled up in front of a long, narrow building.  Johannes instantly recognized this building as a holding barn for the wheat of the kolkhoz.  He also knew it would be empty at this point in time, just before harvest, and he began to worry about what else might be waiting for him there.
            He closed his eyes and prayed silently.  “God, please hold my family in your hands.  I beg of you, do not let them suffer because of whatever I have done.  Spare their lives, even if you do not spare mine.” 


  1. What a gift you have given, a voice to the voiceless. I wish you all the best on the upcoming sequel. Doris

  2. Hi Pam and Robyn, Great blog post. I learned so much about Pam that I didn't know. The book sounds really good. Mary

    1. Thank you, Mary. See you later this month at the Meet Up.