International Writers Inspiring Change feature author: Elena Nikitina, author of Girl Taken

Tell us about yourself

My name is Lena. I’m the award-winning author of the best-selling book Girl, Taken – A True Story of Abduction, Captivity, and Survival

I was born in a country that doesn’t exist anymore – the Soviet Union. I immigrated from Russia in my 20’s, chasing that fabled “American Dream” even though I had little idea about what the “American dream” actually was. I’ve been living in the USA for the last 20 years and I finally figured out that the American dream does not have a certain definition and it varies from person to person. I must say that my own American dream – my most cherished one, the one that I always considered a pipe dream – recently did come true. 

The holy grail of my adolescence was a secret fantasy of becoming a writer one day so that I could live my life, experience things and then describe them in a compelling way at which it would be worth sharing with the world. Until recently, I was positive that I wasn’t capable enough of writing something that people would call a book and voluntarily wish to read.

But as an old Russian proverb says, there is always a blessing in disguise: the misfortune that happened to me when I was 21, made it possible for me to write my first book Girl, Taken, twenty-three years later. Being a survivor of kidnapping and war, I was able to share my personal true story. I wrote about my experiences and published my work. 

And like magic, the Girl, Taken book drew accolades from readers and an independent panel of judges: my readers bathed me in incredible support and wonderful reviews. Literary judges praised me with the most significant award in my entire life and named my book the best in the memoir category. It was such moments that made me understand that I myself, without realizing it, somehow was transformed into a writer.  Such feedback encouraged me so much that I decided to keep writing. 

Since 2017, I have three published books so far and two new ones are on the way. Now, writing is not only a passion for me, it’s my life. I’m blessed and grateful to be living in the country where it all became possible. What is it, if not the American dream coming true?

There are many other amazing things that happened after I wrote and published Girl, Taken. The media covered my story here in the USA and in England. My book was featured on a TV show, on the news, on multiple radio stations including big names such as BBC, Radio America, iHeart Radio and many others. Thousands of people saw Girl, Taken on the pages of magazines and online publications. 

What inspired you to write?

How did I get inspired to write my first book?  It was during one of the spring days of 2015, when I was relaxing in a comfy recliner at the movie theater with my then-13-year-old daughter watching trailers of films that just so happened to be based on true stories. At that very moment, an amazing idea struck me like lighting, and I thought to myself – pretty loud in my head: I too have a story to tell! 

That ordinary evening at the movie theater turned into such a remarkable one! I had to admit – it was for the very first time, that I could voluntarily think about what had happened to me without the fear of excruciatingly painful memories since my miraculous comeback in June of 1995.

To my surprise, I felt confident to the extent that it forced me to come to a conclusion: I was absolutely positive that I wanted to share the most horrifying time in my life with the world, and most importantly – I finally had the inner strength to talk about it. For 22 years, I was doing my best, trying to forget the atrocities I experienced and witnessed, without looking back in order to be able to move forward with my life. Our regular mother-daughter movie time became a spectacular breakthrough! 

You can read the story of my transformation from a survivor into a bestselling author in my latest book, From Zero to Self-published Hero

It is another true story about how a completely immature writer, lacking connections and a budget, with English as a second language, was able to write, self-published and successfully promote a book to a bestseller. The book – From Zero to Self-published Hero – was inspired by my own successful story.  

Is there a message in your book?

Unfortunately, there are many people out there who have been traumatized in different ways.  Often, they are destroyed physically, mentally and emotionally. I survived. And I believe the reason I did is to convey this powerful message: we always have a choice to become a survivor or to remain a victim. It is my great dream to tell my story and show my path of recovery, in the hopes of helping other people all around the world. Even if only one person benefits from it or is inspired by my example, then I get to live my dream. 

Three years ago, I was writing my first book – Girl, Taken, thinking that expressing my experiences on paper would be my healing therapy. Even though I went through terrible emotional pain while recalling my memories and putting them into words, I looked at it as a cure.

After publishing the book, I realized that I was wrong: the feedback I received from readers was my true healing therapy.  I have been moved and uplifted in a way I was not expecting and couldn’t even imagine.  It has been a miraculous feeling that has comforted me a great deal.  And this is how I came to realize that overcoming my ordeal, and sharing my message, can be a powerful way to help others, as well as to heal myself.

Girl, Taken has brought me to surprising and gratifying places.  I have spoken to church groups, book groups, and at a convention on human trafficking.  I have reached people through radio, TV and the internet.  And earlier this year, the book won the 2019 Global Ebook Awards’ memoir category.

What have readers said about your book?

I’m receiving hundreds of wonderful words from my readers that uplift me and make me feel like an accomplished person. Here are a few examples of the reviews and feedback that I receive daily: 

“A riveting read! I began reading this in the morning and finished before noon! Each moment of terror, agony and eventually, apathy were described in such detail that I began to acquire the same feelings. There were definitely moments in my life where I felt as if I couldn’t possibly take one more trial; however, I have never had my freedom taken from me. The very thought is enough to pick me up and place me back to my place of comfort and opportunity to enjoy sunshine, hug loved ones or be alone, etc. What an amazing journey to take with this author in one morning! The mere fact that giving up was not an option because she couldn’t bear the thought of not taking one more step, then another, and another-all for the love from her mother. This is true love to the bare bones. It is not just about how much we love someone, but the realization of how much we are loved that produces the unbreakable hope to fight. A truly inspirational story!

In addition, I thought the way the author ended the story was brilliant. I am very honored to have the ability to leave this review for such a wonderful story. I am so thankful that she survived-MORE than survived-she exclaims VICTORY.”

“This was a captivating read that was very well written. Even though she was a prisoner for eight months, the story moved along quickly.”

“Sometimes when reading about this type of event you wonder about the details – where did they toilet, wash, what did they eat, etc. This book discussed those things in a modest way from her perspective so that one could understand how she survived. It made the story live because those details were her life for eight months.”

“Another thing that I enjoyed about it was that she did not appear to be bitter about what happened.”

“I can’t imagine the terror, loneliness, pain and despair Elena endured! I would have been terrified! 8 months is a long time to go through this torment … not knowing whether she would live or die and knowing her mother was going through some of the same feelings … wondering if she would ever see her only child again.”

“This was a riveting book that was hard to out down. I know that kidnappings happen in Mexico but didn’t know they happen in Russia too.” 

Tell us about your book, Girl Taken

My book Girl, Taken – A True Story of Abduction, Captivity, and Survivalis a true story about kidnapping and survival.  I wholeheartedly believe that the most interesting ideas are what life itself brings.  The most unusual stories happen in actuality.  The plot for my book took place in real life and I just described it in my own words.

I was kidnapped and taken away from my home by a group of criminals.  I ended up in a very strange place, under the complete control of men who spoke a foreign language.  Soon after, war broke out.  I could’ve died at any moment.  I was sexually assaulted.  I witnessed the horrors of war.  After a few months in captivity, I was pretty sure that I had been sold into slavery.

Visit my website at  https://www.girltaken.com

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