“Spectacular . . . intensely evocative and gorgeously written . . . will fill readers’ eyes with tears and wonder.”—Minneapolis Star Tribune
ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR: New York Post
Coming of age in the USSR in the 1980s, best friends Anya and Milka try to envision a free and joyful future for themselves. They spend their summers at Anya’s dacha just outside of Moscow, lazing in the apple orchard, listening to Queen songs, and fantasizing about trips abroad and the lives of American teenagers. Meanwhile, Anya’s parents talk about World War II, the Blockade, and the hardships they have endured.
By the time Anya and Milka are fifteen, the Soviet Empire is on the verge of collapse. They pair up with classmates Trifonov and Lopatin, and the four friends share secrets and desires, argue about history and politics, and discuss forbidden books. But the world is changing, and the fleeting time they have together is cut short by a sudden tragedy.
Years later, Anya returns to Russia from America, where she has chosen a different kind of life, far from her family and childhood friends. When she meets Lopatin again, he is a smug businessman who wants to buy her parents’ dacha and cut down the apple orchard. Haunted by the ghosts of her youth, Anya comes to the stark realization that memory does not fade or disappear; rather, it moves us across time, connecting our past to our future, joys to sorrows.
Inspired by Anton Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard, Kristina Gorcheva-Newberry’s The Orchard powerfully captures the lives of four Soviet teenagers who are about to lose their country and one another, and who struggle to survive, to save their friendship, to recover all that has been lost.
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|Publisher:||Random House Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.40(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.50(d)|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Milka Putova and I had been friends since the first grade, which was pretty much for as long as I could remember. She was short and thin like a sprat, and every boy in our class called her exactly that—Sprat. She had small acorn-brown eyes, set too far apart and slanted—a result of one hundred and fifty years of the Tatar-Mongol yoke, as she often joked. Her face was broad and pale, her pulpy lips raspberry red, especially in winter, after we’d been sledding or building forts all afternoon, snow crusted on our knees and elbows, our bangs and eyelashes bleached with frost. We lived on the outskirts of Moscow and tramped to school together, across a vast virgin field sprawled around us like white satin. She’d walk first through knee-deep snow, wearing wool tights and felt boots, threading her legs in and out, and I’d trudge after her, stepping in her footprints. She’d halt and scribble our names in the snow with her gloved finger—Milka + Anya—and on the way back we’d rush to check whether the letters were still there.
Milka’s hair was dark gold, straight and silky, cut in a neat bob around her jaw. She shampooed her hair every day, and I could smell it when we sat next to each other during classes, the delicate scent of apple blossoms resurrecting our summer months at my parents’ dacha. How we’d sauntered through a corn maze, the stalks three times taller than we were, fingering green husks, separating soft, luscious silk to check on the size and ripeness of ears. Or how we roamed birch and aspen groves and gathered mushrooms for soup, their fragile trunks buried in grass, their red and orange caps burning under the trees like gems. Or how we swam in the river, racing to the other side and back and then climbing a muddy bank and drying off on towels, motionless like sunbaked frogs—bellies up.
At ten, we hadn’t yet begun wearing bikini tops or shying behind bushes while changing swimsuits. We touched each other’s faces, and shoulders, and nonexistent breasts, compared hands and feet, the length of our toes and fingers, noses, eyelashes, the color and shape of our nipples. We counted moles and freckles, mosquito bites and scratches, searching for hidden birthmarks, gray hairs, some sign of indisputable distinction. We lazed in a hammock, suspended between the porch railing and a single pine tree, or threaded wild strawberries on long straws and sucked them off in one ravaging movement, our tongues, our mouths magenta foam. We carved our names into birch trunks so fat, so mighty, our arms wouldn’t close when we hugged them. We trapped crickets in glass jars or matchboxes, which we placed under pillows for good luck, setting the bugs free in the morning; we made wishes while watching the full moon like an amber brooch pinned low in the sky. We longed for prettier dresses and Zolushka’s crystal shoes and a fairy godmother to turn our dingy flats into splendid castles. At the dacha, we opened the bedroom window and stared into the darkness coalescing around us. The apple trees were bearing their first tiny sour fruit. The trees swayed their branches and threw trembling shadows on the ground, and we would sprawl halfway out of the window to touch their young tender leaves.
At eleven, we still played with dolls. Some were missing limbs; others had lost lashes and hair; all had patches of skin scraped and dulled by the years of dressing and undressing, incessant bathing. We owned no male dolls but a set of tin soldiers I begged my mother to buy. The soldiers were disproportionally small, which made perfect sense to us because most of the boys in our class were shorter than the girls. We protected the soldiers fiercely, and not because they were fewer in number and cost more, but because they seemed so delicate to us and somehow helpless, in need of nurturing and reassurance. We handled the soldiers with care and stowed them in their box every evening.
Sometimes we pretended that the soldiers had just returned from the war to their wives and girlfriends. Then we would strip them naked and lay their stiff cold bodies on top of the pink plastic ones and rub the figures together as hard as we could.
“Do you think she’s pregnant by now?” Milka would ask.
“Maybe. How long does it usually take?”
“Don’t know. Let’s rub some more,” she’d say, and slide her doll back and forth under my soldier.
Oddly, I was always in charge of the males, and Milka the females. My soldier would lean in to kiss Milka’s girl doll, his lips so small, so hard against her curvy painted ones. Neither tin nor plastic participant had genitals, of course, but we pretended that they did, and Milka would even take a soldier’s hand and touch it to the doll’s belly and legs, the thick impenetrable place in between. Or she would press the soldier’s face there. At that age, I still had no idea that oral sex existed, but Milka seemed sure in her gestures.
That year, Milka and I began studying our bodies in the mirror, anticipating all the womanly changes my mother cautioned us about when my dad wasn’t in the room. Milka’s father had died in a car wreck when she was a baby, and her mother remarried soon after. Milka rarely talked about her family, except that both her mother and her stepfather worked in a fish-canning factory, and so their clothes and their hair smelled like dead seaweed. “Even their skin smells like it,” she would say. “Rotten.”
“Why do they never come to school?” I asked once.
“Because then the whole building would have to be sanitized,” she said, and snuck her bony tickling fingers under my shirt. I yelped and smacked her hands and whirled on my toes. She laughed, that grainy, openmouthed laugh of hers, her teeth so straight and white as though brushed with snow.
Two years passed, and we had our first periods, grew breasts and pubic hair, started wearing bras and locking bathrooms when showering. I sprouted up and gained some weight and resembled my mother more and more—an ample soft-bosomed woman, who seemed stronger than my dad and all the other men in the world. But Milka remained a sprat—short and puny, with long, awkward limbs and a caved-in stomach. When she stretched on her bed after school, I could count her ribs, outlined by her T-shirt. Her hair was still the same length, still redolent of summers and those apples my parents grew at our dacha.
Back then we paid no mind to scrapes or bruises or even pimples, which we often squeezed on each other’s backs, and those summers seemed as endless as the lives ahead of us. We thought our parents to be old and hopelessly outdated, wasting hours in lines for sugar or toilet paper. Generation Buckwheat, we called them. And my mother would turn and say, “Let’s wait and see what they’ll call you.” By “they” she meant our future children, and we’d guffaw and chime in unison, “We won’t have children. We’ll elope to Paris or Rome and live happily ever after.”
Like most Russians, we’d never been outside the Soviet Union, so any foreign city to us was just as far and impossible as the moon. We couldn’t know that the Iron Curtain was about to fall, or that the rest of the world was any different and not bound by the same brutal rules or years of stone-fisted dictatorship. We didn’t even regard our present government as a dictatorship, but accepted the order of things as we did the ineluctable succession of seasons: poplar fluff and apple blossoms in the spring and a frigid ossifying blindness of snow in the winter. One had to live through it because one was powerless and, perhaps, resistant to change. And even if one wasn’t, the change might not be for the best, for the good of the people. “This country is too old and too stubborn,” my grandmother always said, and Milka and I would nod and shove her sauerkraut behind our cheeks. She really did make the most delicious, juicy kraut, and we couldn’t imagine our winter meals without it, just as we couldn’t imagine not sharing a table or a school desk or our dreams, the future, as far away as it seemed. We knew we would marry one day, grow old, and resemble our mothers and then grandmothers, with saggy breasts and wrinkled faces and gray hair most Russian women bleached or hennaed. But we also knew that we’d always be friends and nothing could change that.