cover image Gods of the Steppe

Gods of the Steppe

Andrei Gelasimov, trans. from the Russian by Marian Schwartz. Amazon Crossing, $14.95 trade paper (316p) ISBN 978-1-611-09073-4

Gelasimov (The Lying Year), winner of Russia’s National Bestseller Prize, chronicles the Russian experience of WWII through the eyes of 12-year-old Petka Chizhov, a fatherless boy living close to the country’s border with China. In 1945, with the war winding down, Petka strives to emulate the Soviet war heroes he idolizes by searching for Adolf Hitler, while also trying to evade his irascible, peripheral vision–challenged Granny Daria. He befriends thirsty Red Army troops guarding Japanese POWs by selling them contraband alcohol, which he steals from his smuggler grandfather, and listening to their tales. Petka also forges an unexpected bond with one of the camp’s captives, Miyanga Hirotaro, a well-educated herbalist. Miyanga passes the time writing an account of his family’s samurai heritage on “Soviet school paper, of rather poor quality, in faint blue quadrille,” that he plans to give to his sons in Nagasaki after the war. In the meantime, his relationship with Petka transcends the boundaries of war and prejudice. Gelasimov skillfully moves between the lives of these two characters, capturing the humor and humanity with which they face bleak circumstances. (Sept.)