Name: Christened with Crosses
Author: Eduard Kochergin
Publisher: Glagoslav Publications
Translated By: Simon Patterson / Nina Chordas
Source: Review copy from Publisher
Genres: Translated Literature, Memoir
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Christened with Crosses is the true story of Kochergin's childhood in state orphanages in the Soviet Union in the 1940s. Orphaned after his Polish mother is arrested as an "enemy of the people", Eduard Stepanovich (Stepanych) Kochergin, often referred to as Stepanych in the book, finds himself a ward of the state and is transferred to an orphanage in Siberia. After the war has ended, convinced his mother would have been released, Stepanych runs away to return to his home city of Leningrad (St Petersburg). Having to turn himself into an orphanage each winter for shelter and taking approximately six years to cross the Soviet Union, this is the story of one young boy's determination and resilience to return home and be reunited with his mother.
This reads like a road trip adventure novel, although this time the mode of transport is stowing away in freight and passenger trains, and the side stories include getting in with some train robbers, meeting forest people and trying not to get caught by authorities. The State run orphanages are what you'd expect; oppressive places run by tough leaders who get given nicknames like Toad. Places where a natural hierarchy in the children prevails and one has to find some kind of skill or useful contribution for the elders in order to keep in their favour and out of trouble.
Kochergin doesn't over emotionalise his time at the orphanage which makes this less of a memoir and more just simply a great story. His descriptions of people, places and events are so vivid that you forget sometimes that this is a recollection from a young boy's life. He meets some incredible people along the way including his first friend; Mityai, a blind boy who was severely injured during a German plane attack on the passenger train he was traveling in, none of his family survived. Together they must fight against those who would steal Mityai to use as pity fodder for begging. He also meets forest dwellers who teach him survival skills and another orphan who is trying to return home also.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book, it is both a fantastic story and a moving memoir at the same time. The author (or potentially it was the translator who added these footnotes in) does well to expand on a few terms and name variations that may be common in Russian and Polish culture but would not be known by a wider audience. These footnotes are done very well and work to enhance the story. The most fun part about reading this book? Pulling out an atlas and following along the trail of his journey on the map.
Ultimately if you are looking for an adventure book, are interested in the Soviet Union, have never tried translated literature and want to try it out, or quite simply are looking for a great read then this is the book for you.