Wednesday, February 1, 2012

"The Little Russian"

Susan Sherman is a former Chair of the Art Department of Whittier College, a small liberal arts university once attended by President Richard Nixon. She is also the co-creator of one of the most successful television shows for children in the history of the Disney Network.

She applied the Page 69 Test to The Little Russian, her first novel, and reported the following:
Although, sometimes I like to read a leisurely novel, I guess I’m not partial to writing one. By page 69 in The Little Russian, Berta Lorkis has been placed in her world, Russia at the turn of the last century. It is a world of unimaginable wealth and dismal poverty, of rich Moscow merchants and Jews living on the margins in the shtetls of Little Russia, modern day Ukraine. By page 69 we’ve seen Berta fall from the magnificence of a wealthy Moscow household to Mosny, a shtetl on the west bank of the Dneiper River; a collection of dilapidated buildings surrounding a hot dusty square. She has already met the mysterious wheat merchant, Haykel Gregorvich Alshonsky and taken a shine to him. She doesn’t know what he does when he’s not traveling the countryside buying wheat, but we do as we follow him to Kaminits and then to a small village near the Austrian border where a pogrom is imminent.

Here is an excerpt from Page 69. Peasants are arriving with potato sacks in their sledges in anticipation of the goods they plan to loot from the Jewish shops. Hershel has ordered several men up on the rooftops. He taught them how to hold a gun and calls them the naturals because they’re the best shots in town. They won’t hit anything, but at least they won’t shoot each other.
Hershel found a spot between two buildings that had a good view of the square and took in most of the roof line. He stood there among soggy newspapers, a rusted out skillet and rotting garbage and listened for the bells on the harnesses.

He soon heard them in the distance, ringing out in a variety of pitches, sounding all the more unnerving for their childish gaiety. Soon the square was filled with sledges, packed in so tightly that it was easy for a man to hand a bottle of vodka to his neighbor. Hershel looked up at the rooftops and willed the naturals to hurry.

A peasant stood up in a sledge and addressed the crowd in Surzhyk. He wore a filthy tulup, a long sheepskin coat and valenki, long winter felt boots. His head was bare and his hair was straight and thick. He was drunk, but that didn’t stop him from standing up and addressing the crowd.

“Friends,” he said, swaying slightly on his feet. “Everyday the zhyd cheats us and what do we do about it? Everyday he charges us more for sugar and tobacco. He takes our beet roots and pays us practically nothing. He says he doesn’t set the prices. Well, I would like to know who does. Do you? Does your neighbor? Maybe Baba Yaga sets the prices?” The crowded hooted at this and several men clapped.

Hershel kept scanning the rooftops. It was taking them too long.

“And now the zhyd wants our daughters,” continued the peasant. “He wants to use them as whores. To dishonor them and humiliate us.” His gestures were grander; his voice louder as he grew bolder on the approbation of the crowd. “He has taken an innocent and fouled her with his filth. Does anyone here doubt that she is as good as dead?”

Finally there was a figure on one of the rooftops. He had climbed up from the other side and was crawling over the icy shingles to the peak. There he rose cautiously to his feet, balancing in the bank of snow.
Learn more about the book and author at Susan Sherman's website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue