In a posthumously published memoir, a Russian man relives the turbulence of revolution and war in the 20th century.
Debut author Kochanowsky was born in Siberia in 1905 in the culturally bustling city of Krasnoyarsk. As part of a talented, ambitious family, he was driven to be academically successful; he also became an accomplished piano player and learned to love the opera and Beethoven. Even World War I barely touched his remote home. However, the Russian Revolution in 1917 shattered his idyllic upbringing; after the rise of Vladimir Lenin and Leon Trotsky, war and tyranny arrived at his doorstep. Thousands of people died in Krasnoyarsk, and Communist soldiers unceremoniously confiscated property that belonged to the author’s family. The Kochanowskys finally fled, and the author decided that they had no choice but to escape to China. They made their way to the Chinese city of Harbin, and the author later moved to Freiberg, Germany, where he put himself through school by working as a coal miner. However, he later witnessed the rise of the Nazis in Dusseldorf, in the ugly form of Kristallnacht. Although he’d always attended Christian churches, the Gestapo declared him to be Jewish, due to his family history, which made his life in Germany dangerous; he traveled around the country to avoid capture and hoped to one day make his way to the United States. After several close calls with the Gestapo and some jail time, Kochanowsky was able to make it to Switzerland, where he met his future wife. From there they moved to Argentina and, finally, in 1953, to New York City. The story in this memoir is consistently inspiring, and Kochanowsky is right to label himself a “moral athlete,” as he shows how he remained unwaveringly committed to his ideals despite great danger and temptation. Of course, the story is dominated by his experiences with geopolitical turmoil, but he also writes charmingly of art, romance, and even sex. Along the way, he also avoids the resentful cynicism that often results from extraordinary loss. This manuscript was prepared by the author’s daughter, Vera Kochanowsky, and she includes a foreword that affectionately describes her own remembrances of him. Overall, this is a moving memoir and a marvelous firsthand account of one of the most momentous eras in modern history.
A stirring recollection of the impact of global politics on one man’s family.