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UK: New book celebrates power of letter writing to change lives

A remarkable collection of letters between a retired bookseller and the family of a Soviet political prisoner – the result of an Amnesty International appeal - is published this week in a book, From Newbury With Love: Letters of friendship across the Iron Curtain.

When Marina Aidova was eight, her father Slava was a political prisoner enduring a living hell in the Soviet Gulag. Life was pretty tough for Marina and her mother Lera too – it was hard to make ends meet, their friends were too scared to talk to them and they could visit Slava only four times a year (often for only three hours at a time).

On Marina’s birthday in 1971 she received, out of the blue, a postcard: “With love from Newbury, Berks, yours, Harold and Olive”.

She and Lera were astonished. Who were these people, thousands of miles away, on the other side of the iron curtain? Why should they care about a family in the Soviet Union? Marina wrote back.

Harold Edwards, a retired bookseller living with his wife Olive in Newbury, had got Marina's details from an Amnesty appeal. When they received a reply from Marina they wrote again. From those first two letters developed an extraordinary friendship between the two families that lasted until Harold's death 15 years later: they wrote about anything from gardening to literature, from dressmaking to Buddhism. Everyone had to choose their words carefully to avoid the censors and some letters went astray but a surprising number got through.

Over those 15 years Slava was released from prison and started to recover from his ordeal; Lera had another child and Marina grew up and went to university. The two families never met, but Slava described their friendship as ‘almost a present of the kind that makes our life look like a holiday.’ It certainly helped save the Aidov family from utter despair.

The book is a collection of their letters, and the story of a friendship that changed all of their lives. It shows the power of a single family to make an extraordinary difference to lives on the other side of the world.

From Newbury With Love: Letters of friendship across the Iron Curtain is published on 7 September by Profile Books in Association with Amnesty International. It has been edited by radio journalist Anna Horsbrugh-Porter and Marina Aidova, who now works as an English translator for the World Bank. The Aidov family are in the UK for the book’s publication and available for interview.

Come to the book launch of From Newbury With Love

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