Walking Since Daybreak

Modris Eksteins’ Walking Since Daybreak: A Story of Eastern Europe, World War II and the Heart of Our Century began as a study of war torn Europe in 1945. The book's first paragraph presents haunting “images of a civilization in ruins.” The work, however, is actually a loose autobiography intermingled with a history of Latvia, the author's birthplace.

Eksteins focuses on his maternal great-grandmother Grieta Pluta. Grieta, a flaxen-haired beauty, was a Latvian peasant seduced by a mysterious German baron. Eventually, one of her daughters married an Eksteins, producing the author. Grieta's liaison with the baron gave the Eksteins a feeling of superiority. Unlike most Jewish peasants, the Eksteins possessed aristocratic blood.

Walking Since Daybreak is written as a two-pronged narrative, which hinders the book. Readers are given a snippet Ekstein’s personal history, followed by a snippet of Baltic tragedies. This organization, or lack thereof, is continued throughout the book. Furthermore, much of Eksteins’ family history is speculation, particularly the information about his aristocratic great-grandfather. He also speculates on the thoughts and actions of his great-grandmother. His obsession with her, a woman he never met and knew little about, is somewhat odd. Thoughts of Grieta are interwoven into nearly every page.

Despite its shortcomings, the book is a valuable source for Baltic history. Eksteins paints a vivid picture of life in the Baltic republics before, during, and after World War II. Tragically located between Russia and Germany, these nations suffered continuous abuse. Eksteins chronicles the struggles of his family, as well as countless unnamed people. Walking Since Daybreak memorializes the Baltic people who were murdered, imprisoned, or displaced throughout the twentieth century.