Australian, Peter Jirgens, the son of Arnold, a Latvian immigrant, had a somewhat strained relationship with his father. Treated as an outsider, a wog, by the locals in the small Australian community in which the family settled, Arnold never cut his emotional ties with his native Latvia. Raised with stories of the old country, Peter grew up a child of two cultures, fully acculturated in Australia; he nevertheless felt in his heart that he was Latvian.
Finally, as a young adult, Peter decided to achieve two things; he would experience the world outside Australia, which included visits to Canada, the US, England, Western Europe, and Russia, and finally, he would visit his father’s native land. Along the way, he has many adventures, reconnects with members of his family, and gets a firsthand look at the devastation wrought upon Latvia, first by the Germans during World War II, and subsequently the iron-fisted rule of the Soviet Union.
After the fall of the Soviet Union, and Latvia regaining its independence, Peter decides to take his father for a visit, a trip that took place shortly before his father’s death.
Out of Latvia, a first book by David Kerr, is an account of Peter’s journey, physical and emotional, as he experiences the world and achieves a sense of understanding of his father and the psychic turmoil he and other Latvians experienced during the efforts by two totalitarian regimes to stamp out Latvian culture.
While certain themes, such as Peter’s desire to visit Latvia and his need for money, are repeated throughout the book, more actually than necessary, the book is a fascinating read. Implicitly it addresses the difficulty immigrants have assimilating into a culture that is often less than hospitable to them because of their foreignness, and the schisms that develop between the generations in immigrant families. But, in the end, it shows the value of close family ties and the binding effect shared culture has in helping people come to terms with the difficult task of maintaining their cultural identity while at the same time adopting their new land.
Despite the repetitions, without which the book would be better, it is an engaging read; an emotional travelogue and coming-of-age tale that offers the reader a look at significant world events through the unique lens of one family.
I give the author four stars for his first book