Born into a Mennonite community on the Russian steppes, Katya Vogt lives with her family on the large and wealthy Sudermann estate. Their religion, their traditions, and the luxurious green of their fields set them apart from the surrounding Russian peasants. Katya’s father, foreman of the estate, has been promised a piece of land for himself, but each year the Sudermanns find a way to put him off.
Then revolution comes. First the German army, then the anarchists, the Bolsheviks, and the Communists sweep across the land. Katya, schooled in Mennonite pacifism and the patient forbearance of her father, is tested by a world upended.
Combining the sweep of the best historical novels with the immediacy of newspaper headlines, Katya vividly imagines one family’s life before and after revolution—and weaves a spellbinding tale of a social world where the rhythms of the seasons are mirrored in the characters’ clear sense of place, even when they chafe against it.
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Praise and Prizes
“Sandra Birdsell weaves a place as important as any in our literature. . . . [She] illuminates, with an artistic glow of the first rank, the intimate certainty that evil will not dominate kindness, truth, or love.”
“In this compelling, beautifully descriptive novel, nature is a vital allegory for beauty, accomplishment, unity, and purpose; conversely, in the hands of marauding usurpers, it becomes a metaphor for mayhem, devastation, and death.”
“Masterful. . . . Sandra Birdsell weaves historical fact and domestic detail into a meticulous portrait of a tightly knit community driven to the brink of existence. It’s impossible not to see Katya and her family in the faces of the fleeing refugees as world events once again sweep innocent people into a maelstrom.”
“When most of [Katya’s] family members and friends are murdered during the course of a brutal early-morning raid on the farm, she must learn some harsh lessons in survival to persevere in a world gone suddenly mad. This authentically detailed piece of historical fiction serves as an evocative reminder of a permanently vanished place, time, and way of life.”
“A meticulous portrait of a young girl . . . Sandra Birdsell’s poetic prose and her strong sense of place elevate Katya’s experiences from the story of a closed society to that of a microcosm of the refugee experience.”