“Rita Laima has authored an eloquent and frequently riveting account of an extraordinary personal experience. Having made the choice to enter the prison-like society of Soviet Latvia as a young woman born and raised in the United States, she tries to comprehend, decades later, what attracted and fascinated her by the land of her parents and ancestors. What makes Laima’s project especially valuable and enlightening is the skill with which she reintegrates the minutiae of daily life in Soviet Latvia within the broader context of the nation’s history. By contrasting her observations and experiences in Soviet Latvia with what she knows and what she has grown to value in a free and democratic society, Laima brings to light the mindless, absurd, and dehumanizing colonizing process enveloping a once-independent nation and its people. Laima’s artistic eye and sensitivity bring out the beauty of nature as well as that of musical, architectural, and other cultural achievements that both illustrate Latvia’s rich and colorful past and its people’s continuing creative potential. The tribute the author pays to all those who dedicated their efforts and lives to achieve independence can serve as an inspiration not only to those engaged in similar struggles around the globe but also to those who take it for granted.“—Karlis Racevskis, Emeritus Professor of French, The Ohio State University
“Rita Laima has written a unique memoir that explores the experiences of the Latvian exile community during the Soviet era and the situation of Latvians in their Soviet-occupied homeland in the 1980s, as well as during the first decade of independence beginning in 1991. The author’s strengths are her frankness and ability to draw conclusions. Laima describes how the post-World War II Latvian refugee’s mentality developed outside of Latvia, and how a young woman with the Free World’s mindset dealt with Soviet socialism and post-communist reality in Latvia. The author’s escapades are supplemented with historical background notes, which enable the reader to grasp the context of events of her time in Latvia (1982–1999). Laima had the courage and strength to confront her own inherited notions of the fatherland with Latvia’s real situation in the 1980s and 1990s. This memoir is not a nostalgic longing for the past but rather a truthful and sometimes harsh story about life in all its complexity and rich nuances, gleaned from the author’s personal experience.“—Mārtiņš Mintaurs, PhD, Assistant Professor at the Department of History and Philosophy, University of Latvia, Rīga
"Rita Laima’s new memoir, Skylarks & Rebels, chronicles her unique personal story, and in so doing, captures the trajectory of Latvian history and grapples with the crises of identity faced by all exiles and émigrés. Laima was born in the United States to Latvian parents who were forced to flee their country’s postwar Soviet occupation, but she returned to Latvia as a young adult in the 1980s out of a sense of national obligation and cultural belonging. She raised her children in Soviet Latvia during the period of Latvia’s liberation and the Soviet collapse. Her unique vantage point—between America and Latvia, between Soviet totalitarianism and the tenuous but exciting freedom of post-Soviet Latvia—makes her story worth studying as a window into the struggle for identity and belonging that defines the lives and culture of exiles and émigrés in America."—Naphtali Rivkin on http://blog.victimsofcommunism.org
"[Skylarks & Rebels] is a tribute to Latvian language and culture subjected to the brutality of the Soviet occupation. It is a story about identity, language, patriotism, love, searching for roots, passing away and space. It is also a memory of youth, ideals and trust. Historical events and biographical notes provide an inspiring backdrop to private memories and help capture the political and social context. However, this is not a historical book sensu stricte. It is not only a nostalgic memory of the times of youth. The idealistic attitude of Laima collides with the ruthless reality of the Soviet occupation. The experience of democracy and freedom of the West has influenced its peculiar, unique perception of communism. The book is written from the perspective of an outsider but at the same time deeply rooted, full of passion and sensitivity towards the native culture.
The book (over 500 pages!) Is richly illustrated with photographs, maps and engravings from the author's private collection and museum collections. In the title of the book there are Skylarks, a symbol of Latvian nature, but also a reference to a safe space, shelter, which for the author evoke emotional memories and soothe the soul. Rebels (fighting on the barricades against the Soviet army at the turn of the eighties and nineties) are patriots, a symbol of charisma, strength and struggle for independence of Latvia. The book is addressed to everyone, just like Laima immersed in Latvian culture, perceiving its value and beauty and wishing to revive it after the period of occupation. It is a tribute to those who, despite Russification, remained patriots and could cultivate their own culture and language. In the end, Laima dedicates the book to Lithuanians and Estonians who experienced similar repression and terror. For my part, I particularly encourage those readers who would like to understand the motives of the person who consciously left the West and lived on the other side of the Iron Curtain."—Aleksandra Kuczyńska-Zonik on http://przegladbaltycki.pl
"'Skylarks & Rebels' is a kind of concise history of Latvia and the Latvian diaspora for readers who know little of these things. In fact, explanatory historical and cultural context permeates the book without slowing the narrative. [...] It is a book for both Latvians who grew up outside Latvia and non-Latvians. For those who know the whole Latvian-American deal — Latvian school on Saturday, scouts, folkdances, dual identity, etc. — explaining this well know territory doesn’t distract from the bigger narrative and the intertwining of her New Jersey and New York Latvian friends and relatives background and histories actually brought new information for me."— Juris Kaža on Medium.com
“Rita Laima’s memoir is a detailed, vivid, and emotional account of a transnational Latvian life during the Cold War. In her book, the author recalls her childhood and youth in an extended family of Latvian refugees in the U.S., her first visit to Soviet Latvia in the early 1980s, falling in love, starting a family, and moving to Latvia permanently in 1982. Her personal story and that of the Latvian collective memory intertwine in many ways in the book.” —Journal of Baltic Studies, 04/2018