A German grows up in Russia in the first half of the 20th century and weathers the tyranny of both Stalin and Hitler.
Johannes “Hans” Gerein is born in 1903 in Chornov, a small German community in the south of Russia. After Germany and Austria declare war on Russia, Hans’ uncle Heinz is forcibly conscripted into service, and his Uncle Pius moves his own family to America, taking Hans’ older brother, Kurt, with him. Hans’ father is eventually drafted as well. When the war is concluded with an armistice in 1918, the czar’s Imperial Russian Army becomes the Red Army, and revolutionary sentiments threaten Hans’ land, now vulnerable to looters and government-sanctioned confiscation. Violence is everywhere: While riding to Selz, Hans and Grandpa are arrested by soldiers. Hans narrowly escapes, but his grandfather does not. Hans pines to be reunited with his brother, but the costs of travel and the bribes necessary to acquire the necessary paperwork are prohibitively expensive, and despite financial assistance from Kurt, his dreams are repeatedly thwarted. He marries his childhood sweetheart, Katie, and they have a daughter, Amilia Lydia. When Hans is arrested for sedition, both he and Katie are sent to gruesome labor camps. Hans escapes and makes his way back to Chornov, but Katie never recovers fully from her emotional ordeal. Threatened by starvation, she begs Hans to let her sacrifice her life for Amilia’s. Debut author Elder paints an evocative picture of a community ravaged by relentless political turmoil. The author movingly captures the bleakness of Hans’ predicament and his gradual loss of hope: “The callousness of the regime froze the blood in my veins. I buried my face in Mama’s hair and wept unashamed at the truth of her words, at the bleakness of our future. I finally understood—we were slaves bound to Lenin’s communist ideals.” Furthermore, Elder’s historical research is impressively painstaking—not only does he accurately describe the politics in Russia, but he also authentically limns the culture of the small farming communities decimated by Soviet policies.
A riveting blend of historical detail and fictional drama.