Mixing spirituality and history, Bay Area writer Greg Archer’s new book “Grace Revealed” is an interesting hybrid.
The years he spent working on it were intense.
“It was like turbo therapy _ a very cathartic journey,” says Archer, who talks about his unique memoir at Books Inc. in The City this week.
The project began as an effort to expose a widely under-reported historical fact: that Joseph Stalin deported and wreaked havoc in the lives of 2 million Poles in the 1940s. Among them were Archer’s ancestors, who were forced off their farm in Poland, taken by train to a Siberian labor camp, and, upon being released after a year, ended up in an East African orphanage.
Growing up, Archer says he heard snippets of the story from his aunts and uncles, who had tales of living in huts (“like ‘Gilligan’s Island,’” Archer says he imagined) as youngsters.
At one point, Archer encouraged his uncle, John Migut, to write down his memories, and months after he digested all the material from Uncle John’s floppy disk, Archer penned a award-winning story about his family’s experiences for a Santa Cruz weekly.
“I wrote an article and thought that was it. But it kept tugging at me, haunting me,” says Archer, a journalist who covered celebrity culture at the time.
He knew he had to explore more, thanks to a series of signs, which began in 2011 when he walked into his office one day to find on his desk shards of glass and a broken picture frame containing photos of his family _ one of his grandmother, another of his mom, aunts, uncles and grandmother in Tanzania. It prompted an adventure that included extensive academic research, a visit to an uncle in Warsaw and the church in Poland where his grandparents got married.
Not only does “Grace Revealed” chronicle the Migut family’s wild journey and Archer’s personal journey, it supplies historical facts about a too- little known reign of terror. So far, reaction to the memoir – which Archer toiled to have ready this year, on the 75th anniversary of Stalin’s mass deportations – has been good.
At an event in Chicago, “There was a hunger, or craving, to hear about the plight and the triumph. It hasn’t been talked about much,” says Archer, describing sentiments of Polish refugees and their descendants.
Archer got positive feedback from family members, who were surprised by a few things: one, that the book got done at all; and two, that it richly describes Archer’s personal exploration and transformation.
Although he started out planning only to write about what his family went through, Archer says, “It felt right to have it unfold in the way I was discovering it.”
Pleased to be able to give honor and justice to the Poles’ struggles and survival, Archer says his “amazing odyssey” also made him look at “certain ways” he was living on his own. It may be something to which readers can relate: “We have all kinds of questions about the deeper threads of where we come from, why we’re here, what we’re supposed to do,” he says.
IF YOU GO
Where: Books Inc., 2275 Market St., S.F.
When: 7 p.m. April 9
Grace Revealed: a memoir
Published by: NorLightsPress
Editor’s note: Archer is a contributor to The S.F. Examiner.