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Without a trace

ANDRIS – Where Are You? by Ron Crosby (Craig Potton Publishing, $40)
Review by Simon Nathan

Apse001A few years ago I attended an international science conference in Lithuania, one of the recently independent Baltic republics, immediately west of Russia. We went on a field trip through Latvia, but none of the Russian delegates were able to come because it was virtually impossible for them to obtain visas. This personal account of the disruption and agonies undergone by the Apse family helps to explain why Russians are not welcome in Latvia.

Andris Apse is one of New Zealand’s best known landscape photographers. He was born in Latvia while the country was in the midst of the turmoils of World War 2 – firstly invasion by the German army (into which Andris’ father, Voldemars, was conscripted), then occupation by the Russians. His mother, Kamilla, and baby Andris had to flee to a refugee camp in west Germany, and eventually emigrated to New Zealand. His father had disappeared without a trace – they believed that he had died in the conflict or in a Soviet prison camp. Andris grew up as a Kiwi, and developed his career as a photographer. Forty years after arriving in New Zealand, he and his mother discovered that Voldemars was still alive in Latvia.

The story of the Apse family’s separation and partial reunification is bitter-sweet, especially with the complexities of new relationships and extended family, but they do at least have a resolution of their wartime tragedy. It’s a very sad reminder of the agonies of so many European families who never found out what happened to family members who disappeared during the war or during the long Soviet occupation of eastern Europe. Latvia was one of the countries worst affected: a huge number of Latvians were transported to Siberia, and many Russians were resettled in Latvia.

This book is a revised edition of a volume originally published by Reed in 2006, but now out of print. Ron Crosbie has done an excellent job of pulling together a complex story from letters, diaries and interviews. But as it is partly the story of a photographer, it’s a pity that there are only a scattering of small black-and-white photographs.