RAK, Julie




Author Tags: Doukhobors

Drawing on interviews, prison diaries, court documents and newspapers, Julie Rak, as an Alberta-based English professor, has examined how Doukhobor history can be collectively recorded through individual stories in Negotiated Memory: Doukhobor Autobiographical Discourse (UBC Press, 2004, $85). Its publication coincided--coincidentally--with the arrival of Leo Tolstoy's great-great-grandson Vladimir Ilyrich Tolstoy in Castlegar in April to attend the opening of an exhibit at the Doukhobor Village Museum. This exhibit from Russia features some letters and documents of Sergei Tolstoy, the novelist's eldest son, who accompanied the Doukhobors to Canada aboard the SS Lake Superior. Their emigration from Russia to escape harrassment from state and church authorities was partially funded by the royalties from Tolstoy's final novel Resurrection. Julie Rak has explored how and why the Doukhobors, by and large, rejected the 'western institution of autobiography' as a community oriented group. In particular, she suggests, the more radical Sons of Freedom sect did not construct identities that were dependent on "the Western and liberal-capitalist split between self and life."

[BCBW 2004] "Doukhobors"

Review of the author's work by BC Studies:
Negotiated Memory: Doukhobor Autobiographical Discourse

Negotiated Memory: Doukhobor Autobiographical Discourse (UBC Press $85)
Review


from BCBW Summer 2004
Drawing on interviews, prison diaries, court documents and newspapers, Julie Rak has examined the difficulties of recording Doukhobor history through individual stories in Negotiated Memory: Doukhobor Autobiographical Discourse (UBC Press $85).

Its publication coincided with the arrival of Leo Tolstoy’s great-great-grandson Vladimir Ilych Tolstoy in Castlegar to attend the opening of an exhibit at the Doukhobor Village Museum.

The Tolstoy exhibit from Russia features letters and documents of Sergei Tolstoy, the novelist’s son, who accompanied Doukhobors to Canada aboard the SS Lake Superior from Batum to Halifax in 1898-99. (In his memoirs Sergei Tolstoy credits the anarchist Peter Kropotkin as being the main initiator of the pacifists’ migration from state and church authorities—an exodus that was famously funded by royalties from Tolstoy’s final novel Resurrection.)

Julie Rak has explored how and why the Doukhobors mostly rejected the ‘western insti-
tution of autobiography’. In particular, she suggests the more radical Sons of Freedom sect did not construct identities that were dependent on “the Western and liberal-capitalist split between self and life.” As a community oriented group, the Doukhobors were guided by the psalms of the Living Book that stressed “our physical, earthly body is not our real being. Our real being is the soul within our body.”

The Social Credit government of W.A.C. Bennett and the RCMP proved woefully inadequate in terms of understanding Doukhorism and its discontents in the 1950s and 1960s. In the process, inflammatory reporting by Simma Holt in the Vancouver Sun and in her book Terror in the Name of God—dedicated to the RCMP detachment investigating the Freedomites—caused damage as irreparable as arson.

While The Doukhobors by Ivan Avakumovic and George Woodcock has gradually eroded ignorance and prejudice about Doukhoborism, Julie Rak has taken Simma Holt to task on specifics. She provides insights into how specifically the reporter contorted Fred Davidoff’s memoir that he wrote in six ten-cent scribblers while he was in Oakalla Prison.

“Simma Holt entitled it ‘Autobiography of a Fanatic’,” says Rak, “a move that immediately makes Davidoff’s story that of an uncontrollable, unpredictable, and exotic other who must be recuperated into a discourse of the Canadian, law-abiding centre… She describes Davidoff as overweight, with a face that could sometimes be ugly and sometimes ‘child-like’.”

Doukhobor spirituality was more sophisticated than Simma Holt was able or willing to convey. Davidoff had justified his unwillingness to purchase land, on principle, based upon his grandfather telling him, “It is my religious belief that we Doukhobors came to Canada only for a time, to fulfil our mission, and the day will soon be at hand when we will leave Canada. I did not accept a homestead because I could not swear an oath of allegiance to no king or queen.

“We left Russia proclaiming ourselves citizens of the universe, recognizing Jesus Christ as the only King and his law as the only Law. All other laws are from the devil; throne and government are of the devil.”

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