Plot Summary: Yuri Vetohkhin, native born Russian, tells the story of his life in the Soviet Union and his three attempts to escape to freedom.
My Book Review: My mom has had this book ever since I could remember. The dust jacket is worn and torn, but one day I opened up the cover and discovered that the author signed his autograph on the inside page. Hmm… we owned a book signed by a person who had endured unspeakable torture. That peaked my interest! How could I not read it?
This wasn’t a cheery book, obviously. Yuri’s life under Communist rule is told in extreme (sometimes monotonous) detail, including his 9 year internment at a psychiatric concentration camp, which takes up a good portion of the book. At times I got very depressed reading about his horrific tortures and the hopelessness he experienced as a result of communism. I had to break up my reading it, alternating between it and other books, which is why it took me about a year to finish it. There were a lot of typos and the English translation of Russian conversations was awkward and didn’t flow very well. I usually forgot who most of the people he mentioned were, and Russian names are hard to pronounce for English speakers.
But I pushed myself to keep reading and I’m glad I did. Even though the story isn’t pleasant, I think it’s important to be informed about how totalitarian governments control people. How do people survive concentration camps? I’ve always wondered what I would do should I ever be sent to one. The only way to know is read about the testimonies of others who have been there.
Yuri speaks often about God and claims to be a Catholic. I won’t dispute that, but be aware that there are several points in his story where he unabashedly admits to being the lover of more than one woman, and to having an affair with a married woman.
The book’s pace picks up somewhat after he is released from prison and he schemes his third escape attempt. I can’t even imagine how lonely he must have been spending 20 years keeping his plans entirely to himself and working alone. That he was able to swim for such great distances at age 50 was amazing!
After finishing the book, I tried to learn more about Yuri Vetokhin. There is little information out there, but to the best of my knowledge, he is still alive (now in his 80’s) and living at his San Diego home in CA. That is also amazing, considering all of the poisionous drugs his heart and body took while in the internment camp.
This is a rare book that is hard to get ahold of nowadays, but I would recommend it for anyone interested in testimonies such as Yuri’s.