• Deborah Yaffe

While the bombs fall

Back in 2016, the BBC interviewed a young Syrian woman sheltering at home during the government’s brutal bombing of the city of Aleppo. To keep herself sane, she was reading Jane Austen.


“I spend the long nights at home reading,” said the woman, identified only as Bassma. “I’ve read Austen and all the classics so I don’t have to think just about the war. I travel in my thoughts to another period, another time, and it really helped.”


Last week, Agence France-Presse interviewed an older Ukrainian woman sheltering in a bunker during Russia’s brutal assault on the eastern town of Severodonetsk. To pass the time until the shelling ends, the woman, a retired English teacher named Tamara Dorivientko, was reading Jane Austen.


Though sympathetic to Russia’s position, as are many residents of the Russian-speaking region known as Donbas, Dorivientko said she would prefer to remain part of Ukraine. But what could she do? “The decision has been made for us,” she told the news service.


Two different women, two different wars – plus one great English writer, offering the precious gift of temporary escape from anguish and uncertainty, even for those whose eras and cultures differ vastly from her own.


And, alas, the same harsh trials for civilian pawns caught in war zones the world over.

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