In 1941, life in Natt’s small town of Zastavna is comfortable and familiar, even if the grownups are acting strange, and his parents treat him like a baby. Natt knows there’s a war on, of course, but he’s glad their family didn’t emigrate to Canada when they had a chance. His mother didn’t want to leave their home, and neither did he. He especially wouldn’t want to leave his best friend, Max. Max is the ideas guy, and he hears what’s going on in the world from his older sisters. Together, the boys are two brave musketeers.
Then one day, Natt goes home and finds his family huddled around the radio. The Russians are taking over. The churches and synagogues will close, Hebrew school will be held in secret, and there are tanks and soldiers in the street. But it’s exciting, too. Natt wants to become a Young Pioneer, to show outstanding revolutionary spirit and make their new leader, Comrade Stalin, proud.
But life under the Russians is hard. The soldiers are poor. They eat up all the food and they even take over Natt’s house. Then Natt’s father is arrested, and even Natt is detained and questioned. He feels like a nomad, sleeping at other people’s houses while his mother works to free his father. As the adults try to protect him from the reality of their situation, and local authorities begin to round up deportees bound for Siberia, Natt is filled with a sense of guilt and grief. Why wasn’t he brave enough to look up at the prison window when his mother took him to see his father for what might be the last time? Or can just getting through war be a heroic act in itself?
Authorâs note, with photograph. Note on historical context. Map.