Our Backs Warmed by the Sun

Memories of a Doukhobor Life

By Vera Maloff

Categories: Memoir, BC History
Imprint: Caitlin Press
Paperback : 9781773860398, 264 pages, October 2020


For many, the Doukhobor story is a sensational one: arson, nudity and civil disobedience once made headlines. But it isn't the whole story. Our Backs Warmed by the Sun: Memories of a Doukhobor Life is an intricately woven, richly textured memoir of a family's determination to live in peace and community in the face of controversy and unrest.

When author Vera Maloff set out to find the truth about her family's history, she knew something of the struggles of living a pacifist, agrarian life in a world with opposing values. To find the bones of that history she turned to her mother Elizabeth, who, in her nineties, had forgotten nothing.

In Our Backs Warmed by the Sun, the author, through the stories of her mother, describes a wholly activist life. The Doukhobors--both the Sons of Freedom and moderate sects--led anti-military protests throughout the early 1900s, harboured draft dodgers in the 60s, and stood up for their beliefs. In response, they were hosed down, arrested, and jailed.

Vera learns of the confusion and fear when, as a child, Elizabeth and her family were interned in an abandoned logging camp while their father served time in Oakalla prison for charges related to a peaceful protest, and of her loneliness when, later, she was institutionalized--one of a series of Canadian government efforts in assimilation. By removing the children, it was believed, the cycle of protest and resistance could be broken.

Tracing the Doukhobor movement from Russia, the author explores the spiritual influence of its leaders. She does not shy away from the controversial actions of the Sons of Freedom in the darkest days of bombings and arson, or the toll on families and communities, probing with a historian's curiosity and a daughter's tenderness.

Elizabeth's story is also one of a small but thriving Kootenay community, and of the experiences of a family who stood by their beliefs. Laughter, ingenuity and tenacity are offered up in the pages of Our Backs Warmed by the Sun, an important and engaging window into our collective history.


"Part character study, part family memoir and part social history, this warm, charming book is a wonderful contribution to our understanding of Canada's past."

--Tom Sandborn, The Vancouver Sun

“Through manuscripts, newspaper articles and interviews with loved ones, [Vera Maloff] retraces her grandfather’s life, showing readers what it felt like to stand up for your values when it was the least convenient thing to do.”

Broadview magazine

“Vera Maloff’s story of her grandfather Peter N. Maloff (1900-1972) is a delightful reading about Canada’s neglected history on the conscience of the Doukhobors. Peter deeply followed his ancestor’s principles of nonkilling, compassion and love, that it is wrong to kill another human being because we all share the spirit of God/love in every person. As a devout vegetarian, an enthralling emotional speaker, during WWII and the Cold War, Peter condemned militarism, exploitation, and war resulting in arrests, jailings and torture in Canadian jails. Granddaughter Vera retraces his turbulent life through manuscripts, newspapers, and interviews with family members and others—giving us a picture of what it was like for him and his family and friends to go against the grain. For those who dare to actively work for peace and truth, this is a book for you.”

—Koozma J. Tarasoff, ethnographer, writer, peace activist, and blogger (www.spirit-wrestlers.com)

“By sharing her family’s turbulent past, Maloff has helped bring a deeper perspective to our reading of the Doukhobor experience. […] Vera Maloff’s Our Backs Warmed by the Sun is a unique oral history that belongs on school reading lists.”

The Ormsby Review

“A brilliant domestic portrait of Doukhobor life and love, crafted with much affection and yet also with a deep scrutiny of the social and political conventions of the era. Our Backs Warmed by the Sun is both a family and community saga, and an intimate, compelling tribute to extraordinary people.”

—Andrew Scott, award-winning author of The Promise of Paradise and Under the Bright Sky