What's the book?
February 17, 2009 2:24 PM   Subscribe

Book filter -- Back in 1978, in grade school, our history teacher wanted to know that history could be personal and he read to us the autobiography of a Russian in an orphanage or juvenile detention when he was 12 years old. I thought that it was Solzhenitsyn but I may be wrong because I can't find that anywhere. Help
posted by notned to Society & Culture (11 answers total)
This sounds like One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. Great novel.

posted by morallybass at 3:14 PM on February 17, 2009

Huh? One Day is a great novel, but 1) it's a novel, not an autobiography, 2) the narrator is an adult, not a 12-year-old, and 3) it's set in a Gulag camp, not an orphanage. Other than that, well, they're both Russian!

Offhand, I'm not sure what you're referring to, but here's a list of Russian autobiographies; maybe one of the titles will jog your memory.
posted by languagehat at 3:25 PM on February 17, 2009 [3 favorites]

Oh, and it's definitely not Solzhenitsyn; he was raised by his mother.
posted by languagehat at 3:26 PM on February 17, 2009

Hmm, sounds like something I may have read about, but nothing certain.

Gulag memoirs

Hoover Institution Gulag archives

Prison-camp memoirs

For similar but later works:
I Want to Live (teenage girl's diary discovered to contain criticism of regime, entire family deported to Siberia)
A Boy in the Gulag (1983)

Possibly useful
Children's World: Growing Up in Russia 1890-1991
posted by dhartung at 3:52 PM on February 17, 2009

Could It be Maxim Gorky's My childhood, altough I don't recall anything about a orphanage...
posted by elmono at 3:58 PM on February 17, 2009

I thought of Gorky too; he did leave home at 12, but didn't live in an orphanage (I'm pretty sure).

Note: The poster did not say anything about the Gulag. I know Russia = Gulag, but I think he would have mentioned that detail.
posted by languagehat at 4:48 PM on February 17, 2009

Um, I hardly dare to suggest it, but could it possibly have been Aleksey Svirsky's Story of My Life? He was an orphan, and the book is about growing up as a poor Jewish kid in late Tsarist Russia--I think there must have been something about an orphanage there. This is a stretch, though, I'm not sure it was ever translated into English.

(This was the first long book I ever read, at the age of 6 or something, and I was inordinately proud of myself at the time...thanks for bringing back memories!)
posted by nasreddin at 6:47 PM on February 17, 2009

And it wasn't Gorky, he lived with his family (parents and grandparents).
posted by nasreddin at 6:52 PM on February 17, 2009

Hmm, not quite sure what it would be, but perhaps it might be somewhere in this extensive bibliography from a book about Russian orphans?
posted by Kirjava at 4:23 AM on February 18, 2009

OP here -- so this is a tough one. There were a couple of chapters in the orphanage where our protagonist was sort of the leader of the pack. There were stories about how the kids had their own organization (gang sort of like we hear of in our prisons today) Then somehow there was a jump and he did end up in the gulag. The parts that I'd like to see again are from the orphanage.
posted by notned at 8:15 AM on February 18, 2009

OP again -- That teacher was not one who went out of his way. (For instance, I was sent to the storage to find a math book to teach myself.) So I'm surprised that this would be obscure.
posted by notned at 8:17 AM on February 18, 2009

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