Outside in World | Browse Books
Use our Book Finder to search for books by Title (or part of the title), Author, ISBN, Age Range, Keyword, or Continent/Country. Then simply click the magnifying glass to start your search.
‘We need the literature of other countries to expand our
horizons and stimulate our ideas. Without it, we are not only
diminished, we are starved’
(The Times, Magnus Linklater 29/06/05)
Gods of the Steppe
by Andrei Gelasimov
Age Range: 14+
Gods of the Steppe is set in the summer of 1945 in the remote town of Razgulyaevka in the far east of Russia known as the Russian Steppe. The war has ended in Europe and Germany has been defeated but there are still tensions along the Russian-Chinese border with the threat of a Japanese invasion.
Narrated by twelve-year-old Petka, a rather precocious boy with a vivid imagination, who constantly fantasises about becoming a soldier in the Red Army and taking part in the war. Petka is shunned by many in his community for being illegitimate making him a target for bullies. His only friend in the village is Valerka, a sickly boy, who is only too ready to abandon him whenever he’s allowed to join Petka’s tormentors. At other times Petka is often on the receiving end of his Grandmother Daria’s stick for his unruly behaviour. When he’s not spending time in the hayloft caring for a rescued wolf cub, he is stealing alcohol for the troops by sneaking over the border into the line of fire stowed in a barrel.
In the vicinity, there is a Japanese Prisoner of War (POW) camp and Petka befriends some of the officers guarding the prisoners. One of the inmates is a Japanese POW Miyanaga Hirotaro who secretly keeps a diary detailing his family history in the hope that one day his family will read it. Hirotaro spends most of his time collecting herbs in and around the camp which he uses to treat the wounded and sick and is often punished for what is seen as 'alleged’ escape attempts by his captors.
The POW’s are forced to work in the nearby mine which is contaminated with uranium. There is an excessive number of deaths among the POW’s and despite Hirotaro’s warnings about the dangers of the uranium, no one will listen to him.
It is on one of Hirotaro’s forages outside the camp perimeter that he meets Petka which has a profound effect on both of them. It proves a turning point for Petka as he starts to question what is happening around him, his actions and beliefs and how he needs to take responsibility for the well-being of others.
The parallel stories of Petka and Hirotaro are cleverly concocted and the narrative is by turns comical, harrowing and poignant. Russian author Andrei Gelasimov’s novel, skilfully translated by Marian Schwartz, offers the reader an insight into a perhaps lesser-known military conflict of the Second World War – the Soviet-Japanese War which began at midnight on 9th August 1945 and lasted until 3rd September. There is also detail on Russian beliefs and superstitions within a close-knit peasant community as well as some interesting glimpses into Japanese history through Hirotaro’s diary.
Gods of the Steppe won the 2009 National Bestselling Award in the Russian Federation. Schwartz is an award-winning translator of Russian literature and is a past president of the American Literary Translation Association.