Anton, a Young Boy his Friend & the Russian Revolution
Review by Charles Stroh
Eisler, Dale. "Anton, a Young Boy his Friend & the Russian Revolution." Regina, Saskatchewan: Your Nickel's Worth Publishing, 2010.
I have just finished wiping the last of the tears from my eyes after reading Anton: A Boy, His Friend and the Russian Revolution by Dale Eisler. I had tried to get a copy at my local library, then through library loan with no luck. I finally broke down and bought a copy from GRHS. Buy one for yourself. You will be glad you did.
It is a wonderful book. It really does not have very much to say about the Russian Revolution as the title suggests, but there is certainly a clear picture of how menacing and dangerous the Bolsheviks were to the Germans in the Ukraine.
The story is set primarily in the Kutschurgan valley between the Dnieper and Dniester Rivers. It is a story of a life-‐long friendship between Anton, a Catholic boy and Kaza, (Kazamir) a Muslim who both live in Fischer-‐Franzen, a very small daughter colony of Selz located on the west side of the Kutschurgan river. Fischer-‐ Franzen is technically in Moldavia rather than the Ukraine but the story is not changed by that fact. Another smaller stream, a tributary of the Kutschurgan called the Andrejaschevski (the Andre) was a favorite place for Anton and Kaza to play and dream and watch clouds.
There are clear prejudices that surface throughout the book based on one’s ethnicity, the size of one’s house, the amount of land owned, livestock, and crops. Religious prejudice is there too, but in the case of Anton and Kaza, it is of no consequence whatsoever. While Anton is aware that his family is wealthier than Kaza’s, they are the closest of friends. Their childhood consists of climbing trees, swimming in the Andre, playing soccer on the dirt street in front of their houses, and retreating to their private place called the cave where they can share secrets. By the time they are five years old, they have both lost their fathers, killed in hideous ways. Anton witnessed his own father’s murder at the hand of the Bolsheviks but he was spared watching the rape of his mother and sister.
While the Germans in the Kutschurgan valley had some prosperous families, it seemed to matter little to the Russians except as a convenient source of things to steal. In fact, prosperity was a reason for the Russians to extort, humiliate, and kill Germans. The book portrays the alienation, isolation, and vulnerability of the German community so very well. Eisler’s method of writing is in the form of a personal narrative. Eisler is not Anton (It is not an autobiography.), but the book is written in such a way that it feels as though we are hearing a personal tale of the author’s early life. He describes people, places, and events exceptionally well and as you read the book, it is easy to “see” what he is describing in great detail.
It is not a book of facts. Eisler’s attention to detail is meant to create a believable environment for Anton and Kaza filled with emotional content and inevitable suffering. In many ways, by telling the story through the eyes of children, the author creates a relatively carefree and happy story with a background of deep suffering of which the children are only partially aware. As they mature, however, they become increasingly caught up in the occupation and by the time Anton’s family decides to leave for the New World, both Anton and Kaza are well aware of the limitations placed on their future. But, only Anton’s family has the resources to pay the people who will help them get out of Russia, through Romania, and into Austria from where they would find their own way to Saskatchewan, Canada. Kaza is left behind.
From here, I will not spoil the remainder of the story for you, but I will tell you that this part of the book is about where the tears started for me. There are still many pages to go to finish the book, but it seems that nearly every page from here to the end provokes another round of wet eyes for me. The last three or four pages of the book took me nearly 30 minutes to read because of stopping too remove my glasses, wipe my eyes, and taking a deep breath before returning to the story.
This is not Stump or Height and it will not help you with your genealogical research, but it will give you an important feel for the period between 1919 and 1925 in the Kutschurgan area of the Ukraine. And, it is a terrific novel with which to spend a few afternoons.