Rights sold: Armenia - ORACLE, Azerbaijan - QANUN, Bosnia - BUYBOOK, Croatia - HENA, Czech Republic - PROSTOR, France - NOIR SUR BLANC, Germany - AUFBAU, Hungary - HELIKON, Italy - SALANI, Kazakhstan - FOLIANT, Lithuania - ALMA LITTERA, Macedonia - ANTOLOG, Netherlands - QUERIDO, Poland - NOIR SUR BLANC, Romania - HUMANITAS, Russia - AST, Serbia - LAGUNA, Slovakia - SLOVART, Spain - ACANTILADO, Turkey - ALFA, World Arabic - AL MADA
Winner of the Reader’s Choice Award of 2022 Big Book Literary Award
Shortlisted for the 2022 Big Book Literary Award
Longlisted for the 2023 Prix Médicis Étranger (France)
Shortlisted for the 2024 Prix Montluc Résistance et Liberté (France)
During the last years of the Russian Civil war (1917-1922), the bony hand of famine strangled a heartland of Russia. The territory devastated most completely stretched along the Volga basin all the way from the Tatar Republic down to the river’s mouth, and it extended far north, east, and west. The long period of war had removed hundreds of thousands of peasants from the soil; also, the Bolsheviks’ policy of grain requisitioning (not to mention similar measures taken by their opponents), diminished food reserves. A severe drought blighted the crops of the Volga basin by the summer of 1921, inaugurating a catastrophe destined to claim at least five million lives. For nearly two years, chilling accounts surfaced from the famine region, describing a population driven to ever more wretched extremes by hunger. A variety of emergency measures, none more dramatic than mass evacuations of juveniles by railway transportation from afflicted provinces, were undertaken by the Bolsheviks. Altogether, the government evacuated approximately 150,000 children, a majority of them appear to have been orphans or otherwise homeless.
Action of Guzel Yakhina's novel Train To Samarkand takes place on one of these trains evacuating 500 hungry children from an orphanage in Kazan to a southern city of Samarkand in October, 1923. Rail convoy's commander Deyev, a young Civil war veteran with a compassionate and tender character, is accompanied and supervised by a children commission representative Belaya, a strong-willed Bolshevik woman. They are two opposite extremes united by a shared purpose of saving children's lives at all costs. Their journey lasts six weeks and four thousand miles.
Yakhina's Train To Samarkand is an adventure novel set on a backdrop of the most troublesome historical period in Russian history, a modern robinzonade, a travel story of epic drama caliber. A series of scary adventures along the way of Deyev's train—getting food or medical supplies for his young charges, finding a nurse for a newborn baby, wandering in the desert, clashing with gangs—are written as if they were a mythical events, but with extreme realism and vividness. Deyev, like his legendary predecessors—Odysseus, Hercules, Jason— on his way opposes to the absolute Evil, Death, coming to him in various guises—as Hunger, Disease, or Murder. At the same time, a constant suspense of their journey, a feeling of danger, and expectation of a tragedy, is masterfully seasoned by the author with unexpectedly touching and somewhat comic situations and mise-en-scenes.