Swimming in the Daylight: Lisa C. Paul
A vacuum is defined as an enclosed space from which matter, especially air, and has been partially removed so that the matter or gas remaining in the space exerts less pressure than the atmosphere. An empty space devoid of matter creating the absence of human contact, air, almost like being sent down into a black hole can make a person feel more than just constricted. Imagine living your life within this vacuum. A room whose walls are devoid of anything, painted white, sound proofed so that no one can hear your thoughts when spoken or listen as you take a breath. Imagine spending time speaking out and wanting to express your thoughts but they fall on deaf walls or you might say deaf ears. Hitler was a monster and what he did to the Jewish people cannot be forgiven or forgotten. What the SS officers did as they followed his orders and you might say did his bidding in a gruesome, violent and horrific manner, pales in comparison to what some are enduring even today at the hands of officials who play havoc and God with people’s lives. Lisa Paul was a young college student in the 1980’s who decided to leave her home in the Midwest and find a place for herself in a country whose rules and mores were anything that its citizens could deal with and whose primary goal was to instill hate, fear and compliance. Lisa Paul decided to leave school and take a job as a nanny in Moscow. Leaving her family, much to the chagrin of her mother but with the support of her father, she decided to take a chance, follow her dream and learn about a country filled with such disharmony, disrespect for its citizens and a caste system that makes India’s pale in comparison.
Lisa Paul has an indestructible will and determination when she believes in an issue, cause and a person. As the story opens we meet Lisa as she begins her journey, meets many new friends and has yet to find her way to the Russian teacher who would change the course of many lives forever. Swimming in the Daylight tells the story of a nation that hinders its people, denies them basic human rights and human dignities and finds pleasure in demeaning, faulting and placing dissidents and anyone who dares to speak out against the beliefs of the government, wants to pray and practice a religion or even emigrate to another country finding themselves jailed, imprisoned, beaten, or sent to internal exile or worse.
Lisa wants to learn more about Russia and to speak the language more fluently. With the help of Inna Kitrosskaya Meiman she hoped to succeed. But, payment would be unusual and not in a monetary fashion as many Russians wanted American items as simple as Nescafe coffee or even special chocolates or teas which they could not even think about getting on their own. Added in they are limited to what the government allows them to watch, read in papers or even what books are allowed in their homes. Imagine what happens when the soldiers or police come into your home and take everything that matters to you because they can! Swimming in the Daylight hopes to raise awareness for not only those living the nightmare back in the 1980’s but for those living it today. The friendship that formed, the bond that Lisa and Inna had would never be broken even in death. Russian officials did not hear the words of those that cried for help. They did not care about the welfare of their people. Living in Russia before the end of the Soviet Union came to pass, Lisa Paul takes readers back in time to allow them a first hand account of Inna’s story. A woman that taught English for so many years, penned and authored many titles and was internationally known and denied more than just the right to emigrate to another country. Inna had a tumor in the back of her neck and it needed further treatment that could not be provided by the doctors in Russia. With many other countries offering services, help and transportation to their medical facilities, all that stood in her way was a simple Visa. Asking for the Visa to emigrate to another country caused her to be labeled a Refusenik and caste aside as if she no longer existed. Medical treatment that would save her life was denied each step of the way and every time she asked for her freedom she was denied.
Lisa talks about her roots and being raised in a country founded on the value of importance of the individual, self-reliance and freedom of expression all denied to those living in the Soviet Union. As you hear the officials, read the many letters, feel the frustration, anger and meet those that were part of her other Russian life you will come to know Daphne, Andrei, Volodya, Natasha and Uvol and the true meaning of friendship, trust, distrust, fear and what happens when you have to watch your words because you never know who might be listening in. But, Lisa had many hard decisions to make and some required that she access the help and advice of others. Gary a young nineteen year old worked in the black market and fear that he might be conscripted. Rather than land within the jail or prisons he managed to wind up in a mental hospital careful to adhere to their rules, say what they wanted to hear and hopefully escape the worst. Many who went against the government’s ideologies or dared to speak out were sent to these hospitals, jailed, and placed in internal exile or worse. But, an incident as simple as borrowing a book would bring to light just how confined, defined and paranoid the Russian’s made their citizens. Lisa’s friend Galya’s mother borrowed a book to read and then left it somewhere and prayed that someone would be able to replace it before someone realized it was missing. Working at the Institute of Scientific Information for Social Sciences of the USSR Academy of Sciences, she was responsible for reviewing written “material by authors in the West.: in plain terms: Censorship. Bringing home a George Orwell book created a frenzy because she was excited to read it but forgetting it and leaving it unattended would cause her to be fired, lose her home and more if not replaced. With a government that prided itself on controlling the thoughts, words and actions of those living in the Soviet Union, imagine what would happen if they learned about the missing book. Soviet Laws many stated were made for the government to control or ruin our lives. Getting to know Inna during their lessons she reflects on what Lisa needed to understand. What would she do if she could not walk freely or read what she wanted and live wherever she chose? How do you live in a vacuum and how do you live devoid of being allowed to think?
The hardest thing to come by was the most coveted and that was a Visa either to enter Russia or to leave as Lisa’s mother finally was granted one to come and visit and meet her friends. The Soviet Government’s assurance that she received the visa Lisa stated was an important lesson about Soviet bureaucracy and much more.
Wives denied visits when family members were arrested and some never saw them ever again as the author relates the story of one woman named Larisa and her husband Anatoly. Aptly put: The world is an organ, and the Soviet Union is the cancer within that organ. Perfectly said!
Lisa’s goal was to find a way to help Inna and every day of her life spent in Moscow and the months after retuning home, were dedicated to her studies, graduating college and keeping her promise to her friend, mentor and herself to find a way to give Inna her freedom and the right to recover. Media hype, an interview with a reputable reporter before leaving Moscow, and lots of prayer paved the way she hoped for Inna. Promises made to help others left behind but each refusal, red tape and these denials would weaken her physically but never dampen her spirits. Medical treatments so many were denied at the hands of those so cruel and unfeeling. Nothing would turn her sunlight into a stormy night. How far would you go to help a friend stay alive? How far would you go to make sure the world knew what you planned and you were doing it for a cause to save someone’s life? Naum was a member and participated in the Moscow Helsinki Watch Group fighting for human rights in the U.S.S.R. For that reason he was punished and denied his visa each time he requested it. Would he be allowed to attend her funeral if she died? As her husband he had no rights according to the government.
Would you go on a 25- day hunger strike to make a point? Press conference, media hype, an interview with Inna before she left for America with an America reporter, senators, major networks and more wanting to communicate the message but in the end would it help? American politicians rally to the cause and so many revered Lisa for what she was about to do. With the support of her parents and her family she realized that she had a long and hard road ahead of her and going on a hunger strike required that she do it in increments. What would happen to the tapes and would they find their way to the United States and be aired?
Within the center of this book the author includes photos of herself, her mother, Inna, Naum and many of the people that she met. An important article titled: Opinion sums up what Lisa was about to do, her reason for the Hunger Strike and the timeline of events that prevented Inna from coming to America. For 12 years they tried and in vain to come here. U.S. senators, media, the voices of powerful Americans, first lady Nancy Reagan, Gary Hart, and many others were approached as the impossible never seemed to ever happen until it finally did!
Speaking engagements during and after her hunger strike, meetings, television interviews and making the world aware of Inna’s plight still did not soften the hearts of those that would allow her to be free. Soviet Jews were mistreated and cancer patients were denied medical help but when Inna finally receives the green light she promises to help those left behind. Chapter 23 was the turning point and as you read this chapter and feel the heavy curtain rise and maybe the iron will fall down and allow Inna to come here and live, it lifts just so far but not far enough. Read the many letters between Inna and Lisa and many others. Hear the voices of support and finally watch the plane land as Lisa greets her friend. Can you swim in the darkness and lift its black veil and bring out the sunlight? Can you find the courage to fight for yourself because you just want to live? Can you forgive those that denied you so much and yet embrace so little? Inna Meiman fought for human dignity and human rights not just for her but for others too. Read her story, hear her voice and shed her tears. There are no winners or losers just fighters filled with determination, courage and the will to survive. This is one story that everyone should read because it is still happening as we speak today.
Told from the heart and in Lisa’s own words: Swimming in the Daylight lifts the dark clouds from sky during the darkest days.
Fran Lewis: reviewer