Posted in 1920s, Historical fiction, Karla, Katya Chernomyrdina, Naina, Russian novel sequel, Secondary characters, Writing

Good News at Mrs. Brezhneva’s Orphanage

This is the second of 20 posts which were originally put together and put into the drafts folder on 24 June 2012, for future installments of the now-long-discontinued Sweet Saturday Samples bloghop. The published version is slightly different, most notably in being stripped of the pedantic accent marks.

Chapter 15 of The Twelfth Time, “Tales Out of Kiyev,” is one of several chapters focused around some of the letters exchanged between Vera and Natalya Lebedeva in New York, their old friend Inessa Zyuganova, who now lives in Minsk with her uncle Dima and several other girls he adopted, and their friend Inna Zhirinovskaya, who’s remained in Kiyev even after reaching age 18, to be an orphanage helper and to study at St. Vladimir University (now Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv).

During the course of the chapter, the sequel’s storyline involving Naina Yezhova, Katya Chernomyrdina, and Karla Gorbachëva starts unfolding. The girls have gotten permission to leave the orphanage in early January 1926, but it’s going to be awhile before they can go to North America, and there’s going to be quite a bump in the road along the way.

***

Mrs. Brézhneva surveys her dining hall in disgust. Some of the Jewish and Christian girls are praying over their food, the religious Jewish girls are complaining the food isn’t kosher, the Muslim girls are protesting they can’t eat pork either, several girls are claiming vegetarianism, and Alína is leading the Georgian girls in clamoring for Georgian food instead of only Russian and Ukrainian fare. Hoping to put their minds on something more productive, she raps on the table. After twenty raps, she finally gains everyone’s attention.

“We have a going-away party to prepare for. Three of our seasoned residents, Kátya Chernomyrdina, Naína Yezhova, and Kárla Gorbachëva, have received permission from both me and the appropriate authorities to leave our wondrous orphanage. They’re going to stay here in the Ukraine until they receive permission to immigrate to America. The going-away party is going to be tomorrow, so you’d all better start making them farewell cards, presents, and meals as soon as you’ve cleared the table.”

“How’d you manage to get the old ape’s permission to leave underage?” Alína asks, smirking triumphantly at Mrs. Brézhneva’s angered facial expression. “Maybe this opens up the door for me to go home to Georgia.”

“I’m eighteen now,” Kátya says. “No one has any legal right to hold me here any longer, and damned if I’m leaving without Naína and Kárla.”

“I guess we have no choice but to immigrate the legal way,” fourteen-year-old Naína says, sighing and rolling her eyes in a very exaggerated fashion. “We’ve always been masters of escape and guile, but we don’t want to start out such an important part of our lives on a lie or crime. If they catch us stowing away on a boat or train, there will be consequences. Even if it means waiting awhile, it’s better than remaining hostages here.”

“How does it feel to hear your inmates describing themselves as hostages, you old gorilla?” Ohanna sneers. “Wondrous orphanage’ my eye.”

“You’re describing me as the gorilla and ape?” Mrs. Brézhneva asks. “Maybe I’m not fit to sit at the Queen of England’s table, but at least I come from a civilized, modern culture, and my alphabet isn’t nightmare-inducing.”

“I believe both Alína and I were referring to your physical appearance and your terrible short haircut, which has always looked like an ape cut it. But since you brought up this subject, the Georgian and Armenian alphabets are beautiful works of art. Your alphabet is pretty damn boring, even if it’s not as bland as the Roman alphabet I’ve seen. And our respective cultures were here and thriving when Russia was still some backwoods trash heap. My people were the first to adopt Christianity, though perhaps in your mind it’s an honor to be part of the first people to abandon all religion.”

“I hope we find my mama in America,” Kárla says. “We don’t think any of our fathers or uncles are still around, but maybe my mother is still here. I don’t know what happened to Naína or Kátya’s mothers, but Naína thinks my mama has the best chance to still be alive and have escaped.”

“Just think, we’ll be going to a real school in America or Canada,” Naína says. “Don’t give me that look, Mrs. Brézhneva. You know full well the excuse of an education we’re getting here doesn’t even compare to an actual school, with trained teachers and real textbooks and homework.”

“I’m glad to wash my hands of you trouble-makers, but don’t fool yourselves into thinking you’ll pick up exactly where you left off before the state stepped in to feed, clothe, house, and educate you.  You only know Russian and Ukrainian. It takes years to get fluent enough in a much different language to keep up with instruction in that language. Although I suppose at least English isn’t as far from Russian as Chinese or Finnish.”

“We’re young. We’ll manage. And Kárla’s only eight. Before long we’ll be masters. But we’re not banking on getting the hell out of this blasted empire as fast as we got permission to beat it out of this hellhole. It takes awhile to get cleared to immigrate, particularly now.”

“I’m hoping they take pity on our sob story,” Kátya says. “And we’re young. Even if America has racist immigration quotas and the Soviet Union isn’t handing out escape passes like candy, I’m sure they’ll let us move up in the line faster because we’re all alone in this world and were raised in orphanages.”

Posted in Fourth Russian novel, Names, Russian culture, Russian history, Russian novel, Russian novel sequel, Russophilia, Third Russian novel

Famous surnames (intentional) in my Russian historicals, continued

Tvardovskiy, Lyuba and Ivan’s friend Aleksey. In America, he changes the spelling to Tvardovsky. His surname was originally Trotskiy, which really only has one association. I don’t see it as a bad association, but it’s not one of those famous names (e.g., Lennon, Jackson) that feels believable on a non-famous person.

The replacement not only has a similar sound, but was also the surname of literary magazine Noviy Mir‘s chief editor, Aleksandr Trofimovich (1910–71). Under his tutelage, the magazine published a lot of things butting up against the Party line.

Teglyov, Lyuba and Ivan’s friend Pavel, who saves their daughter Tatyana’s life when villain Misha Godunov throws her in the Skhodnya River as a baby. This is a character in Turgenev’s story “Knock, Knock, Knock.”

Premier Brezhnev (1906–82) in 1943

Brezhneva, curmudgeonly orphanage mother in Kyiv. Mrs. Brezhneva is so fun to write, because she’s so predictable, while also demonstrating slow but steady emotional growth. As loath as she is to admit it, she grows to deeply care for co-director and former orphanage girl Inna, as well as Inna’s children and the children of the other now-adult orphanage girls who also defected to Iran. Leonid Ilyich Brezhnev was Soviet Premier from 1964–82.

Andropov, a boardinghouse manager who appears in the first book. Yuriy Vladimirovich Andropov was Soviet Premier from November 1982–February 1984.

Yavlinskiy, a doctor who treats Ivan’s broken arm in the first book, and lets Lyuba, Ivan, Ginny, and Tatyana hide in his clinic for two weeks. Grigoriy Alekseyevich Yavlinskiy founded social-liberal party Yabloko (Apple), and came in fourth in the 1996 presidential election.

Grigoriy A. Yavlinskiy (born 1952), Copyright Бахтиёр Абдуллаев (Bakhtiyor Abdullayev)

Kerenskaya, orphanage girl Olga, who’s later adopted by Inessa’s Dyadya (Uncle) Dima and marries Inessa’s cousin Rustam. She’s eight months pregnant when she wades across the creek-like River Bug to Poland in 1937. Shortly after her arrival in America, she gives birth to her first child. In 1945, her family and Inessa’s family move to Staten Island.

Aleksandr Fyodorovich Kerenskiy (1881–1970) was a prominent politician during the short-lived Provisional Government of 1917, and the leader of Russia from July–November 1917. He narrowly escaped after the Bolshevik takeover, and settled in France. After the Nazi invasion, he immigrated to the U.S.

Aleksandr F. Kerenskiy

Kuchma, Ukrainian orphanage girl Valentina, another of the girls adopted by Dyadya Dima. She becomes very close to Inessa after they’re mistakenly sent to another orphanage, which influences Inessa to beg Dyadya Dima to adopt a little girl too. It means so much to Valentina to have a family again, and that Dyadya Dima respects her origins so much he tells her to never change her name, forget her native language, or call him Tata.

Leonid Danylovych Kuchma (born 1938) was Ukraine’s second president, 1994–2005.

Kwasniewska, Polish-born orphanage girl Zofia, also adopted by Dyadya Dima. She moves home to Poland as an adult, and ends up at the same rocket-making forced labour factory as Darya and Oliivia in the third book. Zofia survives Mauthausen with them too. She’s reunited with her three children after the war, and they’re given permission to join their family in America. Aleksander Kwaśniewski (born 1954) was President of Poland from 1995–2005.

Iosif Brodskiy (Joseph Brodsky)

Brodskaya, orphanage girl Irina, who appears in the first two books. Iosif Aleksandrovich Brodskiy (1940–1996) was persecuted, twice put in a mental hospital, put on trial, and sentenced to five years of hard labour (of which he served 18 months) for his “anti-Soviet” poetry. In 1972, he was forced into exile, and in 1987, he won the Nobel Prize for Literature.

Rutskoy, a false name Boris gives Aleksey and Eliisabet when deserting Bolshevik soldiers pay a housecall in autumn 1917. Aleksandr Vladimirovich Rutskoy (born 1947) was Russia’s only Vice President, 1991–93. During the violent constitutional crisis of ’93, he was proclaimed Acting President. He remains active in politics.

Andrey A. Voznesenskiy, 1933–2010, Kremlin.ru

Voznesenskaya, a deranged, sadistic orphanage warden in Petrograd, who gets her just desserts near the end of Part I of the first book. Andrey Andreyevich Voznesenskiy (whose surname means “ascension”) was an amazing poet I highly recommend.

To be continued.

Posted in 1930s, Historical fiction, Third Russian novel, Writing

Sweet Saturday Samples—Armenian Wedding

Welcome back to Sweet Saturday Samples! This week’s excerpt is from my current WIP, Journey Through a Dark Forest, Chapter 42, “Spring Renewal.” It’s May 1938, and former orphanage girl Izabella Nahigian is preparing to finally marry at the then-high age of 27. She, her young single mother Maral (a former cook at her childhood orphanage), and some friends defected to Persia from the Soviet Union last year by going over the Alborz Mountains. They’ve settled in Fereydan in Isfahan Province, a town with a large Armenian and Georgian population.

It’s a traditional Armenian pre-wedding custom for single ladies to sign the bottom of the bride’s shoes. As each one eventually marries, the bride crosses the names off. Mrs. Brezhneva is their old orphanage mother, one of my favorite secondary characters since I created her in late ’96.

***

After all the single women and young girls have signed the shoes, Izabella takes her red veil from its box and swings it over their heads for good luck.  Following this, Firuza steps forward to veil her.  Izabella doesn’t care she’s not Armenian or even Christian.  All that’s important is that she’s been married for many years and has been very welcoming to them.  In a way, she feels closer to Firuza because of her shared Russian connection, something she doesn’t have with most of the Armenian women of Fereydan.

Ohanna opens a drawer and pulls out a necklace with a blue glass eye pendant, meant to ward off the evil eye.  She fastens it around Izabella’s neck and tucks the charm inside the bright red dress.

“I suppose your proper Soviet upbringing didn’t really take,” Mrs. Brézhneva says. “Superstition has no place in the modern world.”

“This is a one-time thing for a wedding, not an everyday occurrence,” Ohanna retorts. “You’ll never catch us doing superstitious things at any other time.”

Izabella picks up a wooden box and carries it around, letting everyone look inside at the wedding crowns.  Mrs. Brézhneva looks wistful for a moment, then reverts to her usual world-weary expression.

“We know how old you are,” Ínna says softly. “No one would be surprised to be told you had an Orthodox wedding and used to attend church.”

“My husband didn’t have much money, and my family certainly didn’t earn much either.  We had to rent our crowns from the church.  Whoever heard of a peasant buying and displaying the wedding crowns?  That’s something for rich folks.  Please don’t tell me you’re reverting back to religion too and are having a religious ceremony when it’s your turn soon.”

“Arkásha wants it to have a more Persian than Christian flavor.  Why should we be married by some scarce priest when we’re not even religious?”

“Oh, your young man used to be a prince.  I’m sure he’ll want to show off his money and prestige by throwing an extravagant wedding.  People can be strange like that.  They insist their roots don’t matter, and then they have a funny sentimental longing for something at important moments.  It’s as irrational as when Alína called me to her birth.”

“Oh, that meant a lot to her.  Perhaps Tamar will eventually call you Bebia.  Wouldn’t you like to be acknowledged as someone’s grandmother, even if it’s only in a surrogate role?”

“I’m no one’s grandmother.”

Velira tugs at a crown. “Can I wear it?”

Izabella sets the box down and gently puts the crown on Velira’s head. “Maybe someday you’ll be married in a religious wedding, and you’ll get to have a crown on your head too.”

Tyotya Ínnushka is going to be a real princess when she gets married.  She needs to wear a real crown too.”

“We’ll see what happens then.  In the meantime, we have to go to the church for my own wedding, or Zavik might think I jilted him.”

Firuza lowers the veil over Izabella’s face, and then the party proceeds to the church.  Maral takes Izabella’s arm and walks her to the vestibule, where Zavik is already waiting with his groomsmen.

“Remember this is my only child,” Maral reminds him. “We survived the Turks together.  You’re going to treat her better than anyone, and never forget what a precious trust I’m giving to you.”

“I’ll do my best, Tikin Nahigian.  I don’t have any immediate family except a few distant relatives.  We’re going to make the best new family we can.”

As Ínna stands with Ohanna and Alína during the ceremony, she can’t help but picture Izabella as she was when she first came to the orphanage with her mother not quite eighteen years ago.  Not only did she seem more like a little girl instead of a peer, but she was so matter-of-fact about having survived the Turkish massacres, being the child of a rapist, and having whiplash scars on her back.  That was what she knew as normal at that young age, since she’d never really known much that was normal.  Now, hopefully, she can start to create a somewhat normal life for herself in a peaceful country and surrounded by love and support.

Posted in 1930s, Fonts, Historical fiction, Third Russian novel, Writing

A Xenial Welcome (Xenon Medium)

My Sweet Saturday Samples post is here. I wanted my X post to lead today!

(Quick note: This is one of the fonts I downloaded, not a system default. It may not show up properly for everyone.)

Font:  Xenon Medium

Chapter:  “A Xenial Welcome”

Book:  Journey Through a Dark Forest: Lyuba and Ivan in the Age of Anxiety

Written:  4-15 April 2013

File format:  Word 2004

Computer written on:  2008 15-inch MacBook Pro

This is the 35th chapter of my current WIP, my third Russian/North American historical novel. In this chapter, four of the Soviet characters arrive safely in New York, and some of the other Soviet characters finally reach Isfahan, Persia, and reunite. A very xenial (hospitable) welcome is waiting for them in both places. After the risky escapes all three of these groups have gone through, it’s nice to finally relax and settle into life in a safe place. To date, this is the book’s longest chapter, at over 13,000 words.

Some highlights:

“Would you like a ride?  Passengers come along every few minutes, but it doesn’t seem right to keep driving past people with so much baggage, and a woman who’s approaching a blessèd event.”

Rustam starts hyperventilating and rolls down his window.  Ever since he escaped Kurapaty, being in small spaces has brought on panic attacks and vivid flashbacks.

“Anyone would have a mental breakdown if he’d escaped from a mass grave,” Rustam says as he flops into the nearest chair. “That night of terror will be with me as long as I live.  Don’t even ask me to describe it again.  It was enough I had to tell my family, Polish embassy people, and the officials who greeted us here.  All those bodies, pressing on all sides, that gag on my mouth, barely any air—”

Katrin pours cranberry juice, brandy, ice, raspberry syrup, and rose water into a penguin-shaped cocktail-shaker, then pours more of the same mixture into a shaker shaped like an aeroplane.  Her guests watch in continued amazement as she prepares drinks.

“What’s a hotdog?” Fyodor asks. “I thought only Asians and some Africans ate dogs.”

“Yes, he’s a Great Dane,” Oliivia nods. “We wanted a puppy, but our mother said it’s better to give a home to an older abandoned dog.  Puppies find new owners quickly, but older dogs in the pound are usually ignored.”

Velira runs to a window of the abandoned old summer house Ínna and Mrs. Brézhneva have claimed in the center of Isfahan.  She smiles down at the pheasants having a dirt bath in the garden of the courtyard, several feet away from the long reflecting pool.  It’s been a long time since she’s been able to just stand and watch animals, without being rushed along, or kept away from most flora and fauna at sea.

Mrs. Brézhneva stiffens at the loud laughter coming from the car.  She doesn’t even need to be told it’s directed at her.

“Why am I not surprised to see you still look like an ape with a bad haircut, pointy ears, and an unflattering hat after all these years?  It’s me, Alína Pétropashvili, and those are the Nahigians, Ohanna Zouranjian, and Ohanna’s daughter Siranoush.” Alína opens the back door and steps out. “Don’t you recognize me as an adult?”

At seven o’clock, the guests arrive at Firuza and Vahid’s house three minutes away from the new orphanage.  Velira, Siranoush, and Manzura’s eyes light up at the sight of all the food arranged around the table—mint tea, orange sharbat, cheese and walnut spread, stuffed grape leaves, cucumber and eggplant salad, noodle and vegetable soup with chickpeas, pistachio-stuffed lamb, saffron rice with dates, orange peel, and apricots, apple khoresh, honey almond brittle, nan-e dushabi with pomegranate jam, and baklava.

Velira perches on Ínna’s lap and obediently drinks the sharbat and eats the soup, khoresh, and plain dates Firuza sets before her.  After she’s finished eating, Firuza goes into the kitchen for a small bowl of ice-cream liberally flavored with saffron, pomegranate syrup, rose water, and watermelon juice.  Velira eagerly wolfs it down and then curls up in her aunt’s lap, where she quickly falls asleep.

Mrs. Brézhneva gives one of her trademark befuddled looks. “Is xenial a Georgian word?  Isn’t there a Russian equivalent?”

“This is one old dog you’ll never teach new tricks to.  At least I’m nearing retirement and won’t need to worry about finding a new job in this new country or doing much interaction with the locals.  I’m here only for political and personal safety, not to try to rebuild my life at almost seventy years old.”

[After Katrin orders Anastasiya to finally move out] “Thank God,” Mr. Rhodes says. “I won’t have to put up with her on vacation.  This’ll be the best vacation I’ve had in years.”

“You can sure say that again,” Mrs. Samson nods. “Good riddance.”

[Title page of a comic book/graphic novel, and the close of the chapter] One Lived to Tell the Tale, written and illustrated by Rustam Dmítriyevich Zyuganov

In memory of my dear friend, neighbor, and cousin-in-law Román Vasilovich Safronov and all the other innocents who were murdered in Kurapaty on the night of 11 April 1937, and for my beautiful, intelligent, generous wife Ólga Leonídovna Kérenskaya and our firstborn, Liliána Rustamovna Zyuganova, whom I survived for.

“Hatred does not cease by hatred, but only by love; this is the eternal rule.”—Buddha.