cover image Red Crosses

Red Crosses

Sasha Filipenko, trans. from the Russian by Brian James Baer and Ellen Vayner. Europa, $17 trade paper (208p) ISBN 978-1-60945-693-1

Belarusian author Filipenko lays bare the recent history of a ruthless Russian state with the story of an unlikely friendship between a young widower and a survivor of Stalin’s gulag. In 2001, having just moved to Minsk, a grieving Sasha finds his apartment door marked with a red cross. It’s “here to help me find my way back home,” declares his neighbor, Tatyana Alexeyevna, who has Alzheimer’s. Tatyana wastes no time befriending Sasha and recounts the story of her life. Born in London in 1910 and educated abroad, she moved to Russia in 1919 with her Russian father, and married an architect in 1934 and had a daughter, before her husband became a POW during WWII. As punishment for being the wife of a traitor—for no true Soviet patriot would allow himself to be caught—Tatyana was arrested. After rape, torture, and a decade in the gulag, she was released, but her husband and daughter had long since disappeared. The narration and dialogue are often comically absurd: “God’s afraid of me. I have too many inconvenient questions for him,” Tatyana declares. This author brings freshness and wit to a familiar story of Soviet tragedy. (Aug.)