Gods of the Steppe

Overview

It is the summer of 1945. The Allies have triumphed in Europe and Hitler has vanished. But with Japanese forces gathering just across the border in occupied China, brutal warfare on Russian soil remains a real and constant threat to Soviet life.

For Petka, a rambunctious twelve-year-old boy with dreams too big for his tiny village of Razgulyaevka, the prospect of invasion is dangerously thrilling. He watches the Red Army troops march off to engage the enemy, and wages his own ...

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Overview

It is the summer of 1945. The Allies have triumphed in Europe and Hitler has vanished. But with Japanese forces gathering just across the border in occupied China, brutal warfare on Russian soil remains a real and constant threat to Soviet life.

For Petka, a rambunctious twelve-year-old boy with dreams too big for his tiny village of Razgulyaevka, the prospect of invasion is dangerously thrilling. He watches the Red Army troops march off to engage the enemy, and wages his own war—against boredom, bullies, and his lot in life as a bastard in a backwoods world. Secretly raising a wolf in his grandmother’s goat barn, happily raising hell with the local troops, stowing away in a shipment of bootleg booze destined for the combat zone, and defying death by the noose, Petka eagerly takes all he can from life, with an irrepressible spirit.

Nominated for the 2014 Rossica Translation Prize.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
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.)
Kirkus Reviews
2013-08-15
During the final days of World War II, a 12-year-old boy dreams of becoming a soldier in this English translation of Russian author Gelasimov's (The Lying Year, 2013, etc.) award-winning coming-of-age novel. Petka is a precocious boy whose vivid imagination compensates for his reality. Shunned by many in Razgulyaevka for his illegitimacy, he's a target for bullies and spends most days on the receiving end of his Granny Daria's stick for his boisterous behavior. But to Petka, verbal and physical abuse is merely part of his normal day, and he shrugs it off while plotting boyish fun: caring for a wolf cub, lobbing cow patties at "enemy" targets, stowing away in a barrel to steal alcohol and befriending officers at a nearby POW camp. His one friend from the village is Valerka, a weak and sickly boy who deserts Petka whenever he's allowed to join the bullies. While Petka engages in childish activities (which begin as mildly humorous but evolve into Dennis-the-Menace type antics that can best be described as idiotic), Japanese POW Miyanaga Hirotaro secretly writes a journal detailing his family history in hopes his sons in Nagasaki will someday read it. A man of honor descended from discredited samurais, Hirotaro's often punished for alleged escape attempts when he leaves camp in search of herbs to minister to the wounded and ill. He tries to warn soldiers about the dangers of the nearby mine but is ridiculed for his efforts. On one of Hirotaro's forays, he crosses paths with Petka, an encounter that's fortuitous for the boy and painful for the prisoner. Hirotaro triggers a turning point in young Petka's life: He begins to question actions, develop his own beliefs and take responsibility for the well-beings of others. Like his young protagonist, Gelasimov's narrative launches with manic energy and quickly scatters in a thousand directions. Although fragmented prose may be representative of a young boy's thought processes, the author fails to clearly connect events and characters and incorporate the elements into a credible, satisfactory conclusion. Perhaps quality of expression is diminished in translation, but Gelasimov's coming-of-age story grows old quickly.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781455880287
  • Publisher: Brilliance Audio
  • Publication date: 9/28/2013
  • Edition description: Unabridged
  • Product dimensions: 5.30 (w) x 7.50 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Andrei Gelasimov was born in Irkutsk, one of the largest cities in Siberia, in 1965. He went on to study foreign languages at the Yakutsk State University, as well as directing at the Moscow Theater Institute. In 2001 he came to popular literary acclaim in Russia when his story “A Tender Age,” which he originally published on the Internet, was included in an issue of the journal Oktyabr, and his novella and collection of short stories, Fox Mulder Looks Like a Pig, was released. Gods of the Steppe is his third novel to be published in English, following Thirst, for which Booklist praised “Gelasimov’s spare prose and pointed dialogue,” and The Lying Year, which was developed into a motion picture. Gelasimov’s work has garnered the Apollon-Grigorev prize and a Belkin prize nomination. Gods of the Steppe won the 2009 National Bestseller award in Russia.

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