Esther Rudomin and her family live in the town of Vilna, or Vilnius, which was then in Poland but is now the capital city of Lithuania. As Esther tells us, the city was built along the banks of the river Wilja in a basin of green hills. From Esther's lush description of her hometown, we can see that it is a very beautiful place, full of pretty parks and opulent baroque churches and surrounded by pristine woodland.
Esther's evident pride in Vilna makes it all the more tragic that she and her family are brutally uprooted from their beautiful home by Soviet troops. They're forced to leave because Poland has been carved up between Hitler and Stalin under the secret protocols of the notorious Nazi-Soviet Pact. The Rudomins are then forced to endure a long, harrowing journey to a Siberian labor camp. The Siberian steppes are renowned for their bleak, featureless landscapes, entirely devoid of trees. They form a stark, brutal contrast to the rich woodland environment surrounding Esther's hometown of Vilna, which she has been forced to leave behind.