This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
by joseph e. lerner
© Copyright 2011 by Joseph E. Lerner
© Copyright 2011 by Joseph E. Lerner All rights reserved Published by longtaleshort.com ISBN: 978-0-984-5675-3-9 Cover illustration and book design by the author
for my mother, Sylvia Lerner
Mukden, Manchuria, December 23, 1904.
scrambled across the frozen field, past trees shattered by mortar fire and ground strewn with ordnance and mangled corpses. Writhing beneath barbed wire, I crossed trenches sheathed in mud and ice, finally reaching the main encampment about midnight. There I passed soldiers huddling beside meager fires, steam curling from their cups of tea or borscht and hands scrabbling to light cigarettes and pipes. Their stares bore right past me, as if I were invisible or already dead. Even the soldiers guarding the colonel’s tent merely glanced in my direction before turning away: they 1
were used to me entering his quarters and hadn’t been told I’d been banished to sentry duty at the far perimeter of camp. Just inside, a tripod brazier flared, while on a bench beside it a Victrola, its recording needle stuck, played a mazurka’s final notes over and over. Hands trembling, I slid out a dagger from beneath my tunic. The colonel lay on his back, arms folded, eyes closed, and snoring softly, despite the camphor lamp flickering from the ridgepole overhead. His greatcoat was draped over him and his boots stood at the end of the cot gleaming as if they’d just been polished—and I wondered who his new orderly was. Suddenly a gust of wind blew in; it clawed at the lamp so that metal clanged against metal and light caromed about the tent. Still he did not stir. I thought wretchedly: why had the colonel taken me to be his orderly from among the scores of recruits? Had he seen something— the curve of my mouth, the shape of my nose, the color of my hair and eyes—that reminded him of someone? He had said he knew my family, but was it my mother who he knew best, and, like so many men, had fallen in 2
love with her? I let out my breath. My hands now steady, I held the knife close to his throat. I could smell his familiar cologne, see his breath condense in the air. Then I lowered my dagger. I couldn’t do it. Instead I leaned in closer and brushed my lips against his cheek—the cheek of the man who I once hoped might be my father—and then hurried from the tent.
Six Weeks Earlier, Near Orenburg, Russia, November 9, 1904.
s the railway tracks curved behind us, I could see the long column of coaches ahead of us flash as sunlight struck their roofs and glazed their dirt-streaked windows. Steam curling from the train’s lurching wheels dissipated in the low-lying fog, while above the steppes we were crossing the Ural Mountains gleamed and then went hazy with falling snow as they faded from the horizon. There were ninety-five coaches in all, with ten thousand soldiers aboard—and more trains to come, bearing, 4
all told, a half-million men to the front. Only about thirty soldiers were assigned to our coach (most other cars carried more than a hundred men each); inside ours were orderlies like myself as well as cooks, warrant officers, file clerks, and other aides. Our coach was fifth-tolast; in the ones behind ours were the adjutant’s and general’s staffs, and behind theirs, a dining lounge. The last two coaches, 94 and 95, belonged to the general and his mistress. We orderlies were treated nearly as well as the officers we served, often feasting on wild boar and pheasant, sipping aperitifs and champagne, and smoking cigars from the general’s own humidors. And late at night we could hear strands of Rimsky-Korsakov, Tchaikovsky, or Mussorgsky, the general’s mistress playing them on her baby grand. Rarely did we venture forward past Coaches 90 or 89, and into the bowels of the train. But once before dawn and unable to sleep, I wandered down to Coach 88. I felt my way through it in the dark, trying not to stumble over the soldiers sprawled along the walls and aisle. Pipes and cigarettes glowed within a reeking pall of tobacco smoke, unwashed flesh, and human ordure. 5
I tried to read the faces of the soldiers who, in this coach, were all Don Cossacks. Their features looked the same: raw-boned, ruddy, and red bearded, with eyes set close beneath beetle brows and hatchet-thin noses jutting above pale, thin lips. I could not bear to continue forward, and, having seen enough, returned to Coach 91. Back in my own compartment, with my bunkmates still asleep, I began to draw what I’d seen. I filled page after page of my sketchbook with faces in full or in profile, close-ups of hands and boots and pipes, and soldiers in greasy overcoats leaning against or embracing each other like brothers or lovers. Later I sketched from earlier memories: my last (sixteenth) birthday at our family’s dacha on the Belaya River near Ufa; my mother and grandfather, still in their doctors’ smocks, on the garden terrace; the birthday cake’s candles guttering as sunlight faded, stippling the dogwood and crocus, crab-apple and iris. ~ My father had been a captain in the Preobrazhensky Guards, presumed dead (his body never found) after a skirmish in the Caucasus near Grozny in 1888. I was 6
born several months later, and soon after that my grandfather, a renowned surgeon with the Royal Hospitals in St. Petersburg, left with my mother for Ufa. There they founded a rural clinic to treat victims of cholera and other infectious diseases caused by widespread famine and drought. But unlike the thousands of other volunteers, they stayed on after the contagions passed and, over the years, as my grandfather’s health declined, my mother assumed more of his clinical duties. That left my grandfather free to pursue his other passions, such as lepidoptery, ornithology, and taxonomy. The two of us, armed with field glasses, sketch paper, and charcoal or graphite pencils, often would hike to a nearby meadow or glade and draw the flora and fauna. But his health continued to worsen, and so, last April, my mother shut down the clinic to return to St. Petersburg to seek medical advice. We never heard from her again. Three months later grandfather died. I fled our dacha and hid all summer and early fall in the woods beside the Belaya River, rarely setting foot in town. I had no other family and, despite my mother and grandfather’s practice among the peasants in the coun7
tryside, they were distrusted in town, especially by the mayor and nobility, who must have wondered—darkly—why we never returned to Petersburg. My grandfather was a socialist and pacifist who had given away most of our fortune over the years. We no longer owned the dacha and clinic either, I’d learned, and so I feared, being underage, I’d be shipped off to an orphanage or a workhouse before I could find my mother. Once after dark I sneaked back into our dacha. I gathered in my satchel my and grandfather’s sketchbooks, which I’d hidden in the cellar, and hurried from the house. Later that night a girl I knew, Marya, met me beneath the bridge outside of town with a loaf of bread she’d stolen from her father’s bakery. “What will you do when winter comes?” she asked. “I’ll stay with Olga.” Olga, our former servant, lived in a nearby village. “She has her own husband and children to care for.” “Then I’ll go to St. Petersburg, look for my mother—” My voice broke and I began to cry. She kissed me and then we lay together beneath the blankets she had brought. 8
At sunrise Marya scrambled into her clothes and hurried back to town. I wasn’t surprised at her abrupt leaving; she’d been taking a terrible risk and I was grateful for all she had done for me. Marya wasn’t the first girl I slept with, and I wasn’t in love, but I would miss her when I left Ufa. I returned to the dacha again, this time to retrieve photographs of my mother and grandfather to take with me to Petersburg. The capital was a thousand miles away, and I hadn't yet figured out how I would get there or how I would keep myself from starving or freezing to death. But that didn’t lessen my determination to go. As I was leaving the cellar I heard the clatter of hooves in the yard and then a window break and footfalls echo in the passage above me. I seized a long, jagged shard from the floor and retreated behind a wine rack. At the top of the stairs the door creaked open; in the angle of light I glimpsed boots, military breaches, a sidearm. “Gregory Gregoravich!” the man shouted from the top step. “I’m here to help you. My name is Major Yuan Lee. Look!” He brandished an envelope. “You’d recognize your mother’s handwriting, wouldn’t you?” 9
“How do you know my mother?” I yelled. “I’m a military attaché with the Chinese consulate in St. Petersburg,” he continued in fluent Russian. “I know many officers in the Preobrazhensky Guards, where your father is still fondly remembered.” I emerged from behind the wine rack. “Good!” he smiled. “Now come upstairs and we’ll talk.” In the kitchen the officer set two steaming glasses of tea before us. He was tall and thin, with a narrow face and eyes the color of sand. “I’ve been looking for you for days,” he said, handing me the letter. “That girl, the baker’s daughter, told me where I might find you.” I opened the envelope. Dear Gregory, I have written to you often, but fear none of my letters have reached you. Major Lee assures me, however, that this one will. I am well, despite my detention at the Peter and Paul Fortress in Petersburg. Please don’t be alarmed! Friends of the family have come to my aid, and I’m confident of my imminent release. Your grandfather and I never told you the real reason 10
why we left Petersburg: he had been exiled because of his political beliefs, though when I returned to the capital I did not think anyone would remember or care, much less arrest me. As for my leaving you and your grandfather— what was I thinking? But I meant to return within the month, and I knew he was in your good hands. Please don’t blame yourself for his death! Or don’t think I’ve abandoned you, my darling boy. We may stay separated a while longer, so obey Major Lee as you would your grandfather or me. Love, Mother. I set the letter down. My hands trembled and tears ran down my cheeks. “She’s all right?” I asked. Major Lee nodded. “And you’ll take me to Petersburg?” “We can’t return just yet. I’m to deliver you into the care of another army officer, Colonel Chierden, also once of the Preobrazhensky Guards, and a good friend of your father’s. The plan is to rendezvous with him at the railway station in Perm, where we’ll all then board a troop train for Manchuria.” “Manchuria!” “The war against the Japanese will end soon, and you 11
shouldn’t be in harm’s way, not anywhere near the front. And then we’ll return west to Petersburg.” “How do you know the war will end soon?” “Didn’t your mother say to trust me?” He sipped the last of the tea and set his glass and mine beside the sink. I gathered my satchel and followed him outside, where two horses were tethered. They were Mongolian mounts, a chestnut and a black, small as ponies but fast and strong. I swung myself onto the chestnut and followed Lee out onto the road. Staring back at the dacha, my eyes grew moist again, but when I saw the major staring at me I flicked my horse’s reins and trotted away. It was Sunday and the villages and hamlets were quiet. Church bells echoed across the fields, and peasants filed past the sheaves of wheat and flax toward prayer. Dust swirled across the road. By late afternoon the sky had darkened and an icy rain began to fall, turning the road to mud. We stopped just once to rest and water the horses. Major Lee brought me borscht and tea from a nearby inn. My hands were frozen and throbbing. I ate quickly and then went to the stables to retrieve our mounts. 12
Later it began to snow, but I fell into a light sleep despite the weather and the stiff Mongolian saddle. We reached Perm around midnight, the station little more than a hut with a stove and telegraph. Lee wired the train so it would expect us while I watered and fed the horses again. When I rejoined Lee, he’d built a fire in the stove. We finished the last of our tea and bread. The major opened his pocket watch. “Chierden should have been here by now. We’ll have to board whether he comes on time or not.” A train whistle shrieked far down the tracks. I led the horses onto the platform. Major Lee followed. The whistle blew again and the locomotive’s headlamps, a blurred halo of smoke and steel, pierced the distant dark. Then without warning a horse and rider burst into the clearing. The man quickly dismounted and bounded to the platform. He and Major Lee embraced. “Colonel,” Lee said, “Meet your new orderly.” Chierden was a large heavy-bearded man clad in an army greatcoat and fur hat. He crossed his arms and stared at me. “How old are you, son?” “Sixteen.” 13
“Sixteen! And small and frail-looking too—” My hands curled into fists, but I didn’t raise them. Lee chuckled. “Maybe a little mangy and feral. But frail, I think not.” “Is that so?” Chierden stared at me again. “Well, we shall see.” I brought the horses to the livestock coaches near the rear of the train. A gate clattered open and a soldier leaped down. He looked even younger and thinner than me. He jammed a ramp into place, and, grabbing the horses’ reins, led them inside. The other beasts within bucked and snorted, their breaths icy swirls. “I’m Vladimir Pelov,” he said. “Mine’s—” “I know. Gregory Gregoravich Sandiuesky. Follow me.” The train began moving, rattling the tack and other gear dangling from the stalls. Beside the coach’s rear door were stacked cages of pullets, ducks, and other fowl. Perov reached inside one, grabbed a gosling by the neck, and shoved it under his arms. The next two coaches were empty. As we entered a third, Perov told me it was the officers’ kitchen and mess. 14
Cooks and cooks’ assistants, their bare arms glistening, rushed about in the coach’s smoke and steam. Perov stopped before one soldier dozing on a stool, his legs sprawled before him, his paunch straining against his smock. Perov wrung the neck of the gosling and flung it at the soldier. “What do I do with this?” he yelled, falling off the stool while grappling with the still-squirming fowl. “What do you think? Dress it and save it for later.” “And who’s this guy?” He jerked his thumb at me. “Gregory Gregoravich, meet Dmitri Alexovich Chernovsky. Gregory’s our new bunkmate.” The next three coaches were also empty, the seats removed to cram in more soldiers, Perov said. The fourth coach was ours, a Pullman car from America. I stared in disbelief. Pelov laughed. “A quirk of the general’s, the Pullmans. Not for the rank and file.” He showed me our compartment, which, though small, held four bunks, the lower two tidy, the top two unmade and strewn with dirty clothing. “That top right’s yours. Just dump that junk on Chernovsky’s bunk, they’re his. When you get your own gear, stow it in your overhead locker.” 15
I heard him riffle through something in the bunk below mine and then leave. I fell asleep and awoke hours later, staring into Chernovsky’s face. He grinned and stuck in my hands a mug of tea and some black bread. “You missed breakfast. But this should tide you over till supper. There’s goose tonight, surprise! Pelov thinks we’re being gorged like that poor gosling as recompense for the slaughter to come. That’s ridiculous, of course. I doubt our officers plan to eat us. Right, Melnikov?” Another soldier was in the lower bunk across from Pelov’s. His long legs stuck out and he held a book propped up in his lap. He wore spectacles and his dark hair was long and unkempt. “From what I’ve heard, it’s the Japanese who plan to eat us.” Chernovsky laughed. “I’d like to see one of ’em try to take a bite out of me! Well, have to go. Got kitchen duty again.” After he left, Melnikov said, “Don’t be fooled by Chernovsky. Both he and Pelov are quite capable of violence.” “And you?” He smiled. “I’m a pacifist.” “What are you reading?” 16
He raised the book. “God and the State, by Mikhail Bakunin. Not a pacifist,” I said. “Great. Another intellectual.” He returned to his book. I reached into my satchel for Tolstoy’s What I Believe, one of my grandfather’s books, but the small volume’s pages were damp and stuck together. ~ For the first few days I had little to do. Chernovsky worked in the kitchen, and Pelov and Melnikov, like myself, were orderlies serving the officers assigned to Coach 92. But I hadn’t seen Major Lee or Colonel Chierden even once since we had boarded. So I used the time to brush up on the English and French I had been taught by reading books by the Americans Walt Whitman and Mark Twain, and French writers Gustave Flaubert and Victor Hugo. The books were Melnikov’s; he also had ones by the French philosopher Proudhon and the Russian Kropotkin as well as Bakunin, but these I ignored. For fresh air I’d stand on the platform between coaches and stare at the whirling snow. The train inched along, mostly eastward but often detouring down spur lines 17
and branches south and west to link up with coaches and troops at stations even more remote than Perm: Abulak, Kandagach, Zhem, Zhanazhol, Nogi-Tem. One morning Chernovsky shook me awake. “Your presence is requested elsewhere,” he said. “Orders from Major Lee.” It was still dark. Groggy, I quickly dressed and followed Chernovsky outside. The train was idling beside the Nogi-Tem station, where, he said, ten more coaches, with a thousand soldiers aboard them, had been hitched the previous night. We dodged gouts of steam until reaching the coach coupled behind the locomotive’s tender. A few soldiers lingered nearby, but none paid us any attention. Chernovsky knocked at the door and Melnikov unbolted it from inside and slid it open a crack. “Get in quick,” he said, glancing at the soldiers. The coach was crammed with crates of munitions: carbines, side-arms, grenades, mortars, and shells, from which the smell of ozone, grease, and saltpeter wafted. Pelov sat by an overturned crate and read from a bill of lading, while Melnikov placed the firearms inside a coffin-like locker. 18
“I could have used Sandiuesky earlier,” Pelov scowled. “We’re about done.” “Gregory Gregoravich is not here to work,” Chernovsky said. “He’s to be treated as a Guest of the State, said the major.” He slipped a revolver inside his tunic before Melnikov could shut the locker. “Regular troops,” Pelov explained, “are forbidden to carry arms while in transit. We’re exempt from that rule.” He shut the ledger and pocketed a Colt semi-automatic. Melnikov then reached for a Smith & Wesson revolver as well as a short Kizlyar knife. All three soldiers then turned to me. The only weapon left was a small-bore pistol. I picked it up and felt its unexpected heft and warmth, nestling it in my hand like a small, quivering animal.
Kyzyl Station, Russia, November 15, 1904.
whistle shrieked and brakes squealed as the coach shimmied and teetered. My head slammed against the bulkhead, crunched metal and shattered glass ringing in my ears. Gear and clothing whirled about the cabin as the train continued to decelerate. I clung to my bunk, bracing for another impact. Several moments later the coaches finally lurched to a halt, and the four of us stared at each other in fear and disbelief. We fumbled into our clothes and hurried outside. My head throbbed but otherwise I felt all right. Smoke and 20
flames billowed along the tracks ahead. Cinder and debris careened in the early morning air. Dazed and freezing, we joined other soldiers beside an oil drum that had been set alight and which blazed like a pyre. We blew into our hands and stamped our feet. Soon a master sergeant appeared, accompanied by a slight, goateed man wearing spectacles and a Red Cross armband. “My name is Dr. Irgun,” he shouted. “Your train bore only minor damage, but the one ahead of yours was not so lucky, derailed in a bomb explosion. Have any of you nursing or other medical experience?” Chernovsky pushed me forward. Irgun turned to me. “What is your name?” “Gregory Gregoravich Sandiuesky.” “And how did you come by your experience?” “My mother and grandfather ran a medical clinic in Ufa.” “Ufa,” he repeated. He scrunched his brow. “By chance is your grandfather Dr. Alexei Alexeivich Balin?” “Yes. He died several months ago.” “I’m sorry to hear that. I trained under him long ago. We should talk, but for now please follow me.” The nearby Kyzyl railway station was a large ram21
shackle structure built on stilts above a frozen bog. Stretcher-bearers ferried the wounded inside, where scores of soldiers already lay on blankets and straw pallets. The floorboards keened, an icy wind buffeting them from below. I spent the morning fetching towels and compresses, gauze and water. I changed patients’ dressings and once pinned down a flailing soldier as Dr. Irgun sawed at his leg. I joined medics bringing in more wounded and gathered up bloody bandages and other waste to heap outside and set afire. At Ufa there’d been typhoid, cholera, and diphtheria; rickets, diarrhea, and malnutrition; bodily injury, miscarriage, tumors, and cancers. I often helped mother in the clinic and infirmary, and so I was not unprepared for Kyzyl and believe I acquitted myself well. By late afternoon, the worst over, Irgun thanked me and said I could leave. It had stopped snowing and, as darkness fell, a full moon rose. I walked toward where the other train’s coaches had derailed. Soldiers were still hauling out debris and repairing the tracks. I eventually found Chernovsky, Pelov, and Melnikov warming themselves by a small bonfire. “Thanks, Chernovsky,” I said. 22
“If I knew we’d be stuck in the cold all day I’d’ve volunteered myself.” He pried open a tin of beluga (or foie gras or some other delicacy he’d scrounged from the wreck) with Melnikov’s Kizlyar knife. Melnikov was oiling his revolver. He spun the chamber, and squeezed the trigger (an audible click, the chamber empty), aiming at Chernovsky. Pelov seized the barrel. “Fool. Didn’t they teach you anything during training?” “Like our friend Gregory Gregoravich, I’m a guest of the army.” Melnikov frowned. “Or was. By the way,” he said to me, “your officer’s been asking for you.” “Colonel Chierden? Do you know where he is?” “See that shed where the tracks converge?” “The switching station?” Melnikov nodded. “Did he say why?” Chernovsky guffawed, spraying food. Pelov struck a match on Melnikov’s sleeve and lit his pipe. Melnikov glowered at him and then turned to me. “Go and find out.” I opened my mouth and then closed it. Turning and walking down the tracks, I was soon skirting the blast 23
crater and wrecked locomotive, the air still thick with ash and the smell of burning metal. I saw a lamp flicker in the hut’s window and the silhouettes of three men. I drew nearer. One of them was gagged and bound to a chair. He writhed and jerked his head to and fro. Then one of the other two men slid a knife across his throat. Blood spattered the window. I stumbled and fell, and, on hands and knees, retched in the snow. I heard the door bang open and Lee or Chierden shout my name. But I pretended not to hear as I scrambled to my feet and hurried away.
Lake Baikal, November 18, 1904.
he wind roared from the sky, snow and hail scurrying across knobs and rucks of ice, the swells of permafrost rippling toward distant, shimmering peaks. Lake Baikal. The coaches rocked, wheels squealing, rails heaving beneath them. I sat up, groggy and shivering. Chernovsky and Melnikov were still asleep, but Pelov was not in his bunk. All three had stayed up late drinking and playing cards—I had heard arguing, shouting and even a shoving match as I fell asleep. 25
Later I awoke and saw out the window (the train barely moving at that hour of the night) three soldiers grappling in the snow. A blade glittered, a man fell, and then the other two raced back to the train, blood fluorescing where the third man lay. Or had I been dreaming? The train stopped. A master sergeant jogged beside the coaches, pounding on windows and ordering everyone outside. Later, when I saw Melnikov and Chernovsky in line beside a mobile kitchen that had been set up for the soldiers, I asked, “Where’s Pelov?” “Haven’t seen him,” Chernovsky said. He gulped his tea and turned to Melnikov. “Didn’t he go looking for another card game last night?” Melnikov shrugged and bit into a biscuit. “Maybe he deserted.” “Deserted? Here?” I said. “Where else? The front?” said Chernovsky. “We should tell someone!” “Why?” said Melnikov. “You think they’d send a search party? If they did, it’d only be to shoot him on sight.” 26
“You sound like you don’t even care. You’re his comrades!” Melnikov and Chernovsky exchanged looks. “We didn’t know you gave a damn,” Chernovsky said. I stomped away. I thought of telling someone, not Chierden but maybe Lee. At least ask his advice, though I thought I knew what he’d probably say: do nothing, say nothing—and don’t get drunk or gamble with Melnikov and Chernovsky. I saw Chierden and Lee alight from Coach 96 behind the general and his mistress. All four then climbed inside a well-appointed troika and drove away. They didn’t see me. I walked behind the train. Then a sergeant grabbed me and several other soldiers and ordered us to the rear of the train, where the ice had softened and the rails had sunk into slush. I didn’t protest. We climbed into Coach 94, the general’s carriage, and were instructed to remove the furnishings: oil paintings, tapestries, rugs, an antique credenza, a four-poster bed. The coach adjoining it, Number 95, was similarly appointed: a canopied single bed, a baby grand piano, and a large trunk from which a doll house and children’s books peered. 27
I picked up an illustrated book of fairy tales. “These belong to the general’s mistress?” I asked. “She’s his niece, you pampered whelp!” The sergeant slapped my hand (the book went flying) and then the side of my head. “When you’re done I’ve other work for you.” My ears rang and my head pounded. When the coaches were emptied (the furniture loaded onto wagons for the time being), I was ordered to another gang dragging ties and rails across the frozen lake. By mid-afternoon Colonel Chierden rode up to us on Lee’s Mongolian black. “I’ve been looking for you. Didn’t you tell the sergeant you were assigned to me?” he said. “I’m not afraid of a little work.” “Keep it up and you’ll get a real taste of hardship.” He offered me his hand. I hesitated, but then grabbed it and swung up behind him. “Look in my saddlebag. I’ve got your sketchbook and pencils. The general is curious about you.” We rode toward the farther shore and then to a narrow marsh and bay. Nearby gurgled hot springs, which melted the adjacent ice. The general’s troika, its runners 28
sunk in sand, hunkered nearby. He had exchanged his fur coat for a leather jerkin and stamped about, smacking his hands and grinning as if it were a beautiful day to be out and about. Major Lee grabbed three shotguns from the back of the troika and handed one each to Chierden and to the general, then kept one for himself. The girl stood near the horses, feeding them treats. The three officers left. I sat down on a large boulder and got out my sketchbook and began to draw. The girl walked over. She looked in her furs and jewels as if she were about to step out to a ball or cotillion on Nevsky Prospect instead of being stranded in the Siberian wilderness. She sat down beside me, her hands curled in her muff. “Can I see?” she asked, and I felt my cheeks burn and my legs wobble. “My name’s Irena.” “I’m—” “I know who you are. Gregory Gregoravich Sandiuesky. See?” She pointed. “Your name’s even on your sketchbook!” I shrugged and passed it to her. She began turning the pages. “Is that your mother and grandfather?” I nodded. My throat tightened. “Colonel Chierden and Major Lee told me about them. I’ve been hop29
ing we’d meet.” “Why?” I asked, confused and embarrassed. “Because we’re alike. My mother died of pneumonia, you see, when I was twelve, and my father’s gone off to America—” Suddenly geese scrambled into the sky and the air echoed with gunfire. Why was she telling me this? I didn’t want the general to return and find us together. Yet I couldn’t leave either. I liked sitting next to her, the warmth of her leg against mine, the rise and fall of her breasts, our icy breaths intermingling. A second, third, and fourth troika appeared. As they drew near, cooks and orderlies jumped out, lugging linen, china, and folding chairs and tables. Chierden, Lee, and the general returned. More sleighs appeared, these with officers, subalterns, and noncommissioned officers. Our small shooting party was turning into a much larger affair. Lanterns and braziers were lit, pitchers of mead and kvass passed around, followed by pots of sturgeon, veal, and wild boar. And for dessert, tortes and puddings with samovars of coffee and black tea. Irena smiled at me, torchlight reflecting in her eyes, 30
her cheeks round and dimpled like a child’s. She kissed me. The general, drunk on kvass, came over and shoved me aside so he could sit next to her. He whispered in her ear, Irena shook her head, and he grabbed her arm. I tried to jump up, not a little drunk myself, but Major Lee, sitting on my other side, pushed me back down. I squirmed in his grasp while Irena, with Chierden and the general, walked back to their troika.
Altai Mountains, November 21, 1904.
e’ll be in China the day after tomorrow,” Chierden said, staring at my reflection in the mirror. I held a tray with a straight razor, strop, and shaving brush and soap. He set down the scissors he’d been trimming his beard with and rubbed his stubbled face. The train, after its long slow climb into the Altai Mountains, had begun its descent. Bottles and jars rattled atop the shelf above the wash basin, but my hands remained steady as I lathered his face, stropped the razor, and commenced shaving him. I fell in with the train’s 32
rhythms, but when I raised the blade to his throat he seized my wrist. “I can do this myself,” he said. “Though I don’t doubt your fingers are nimble. You are the son and grandson of surgeons.” “You include my mother. What else do you know about my family?” With several deft swipes the remaining stubble was gone. He set down the razor. “It was your father who I knew. And your mother. Your grandfather didn’t much care for me.” “Why not?” “He was a pacifist.” “My father was a soldier too.” “Your grandfather didn’t care much for him either.” He wiped his face and tossed the towel on the tray. He sat down on his bunk. “Then how—” “Your father and I were cadets together in the Preobrazhensky Guards. He first saw your mother on the Marsovo Pole parade grounds where we were drilling. He knew a duchess who knew her aunt and, well, that’s how introductions are made in St. Petersburg.” 33
“How old was my mother?” “Sixteen. But we weren’t much older. Twenty, twentyone.” He closed his eyes. “They courted through spring and summer. In autumn our regiment was dispatched to quell a rebellion in the Caucasus. I was the last to see your father alive. After the battle I even returned to look for him.” “Maybe he was taken prisoner.” “Maybe. But wouldn’t we have heard from him by now if he were still alive?” I stared at his face. I’d never seen him clean shaven before and I liked him even less without the beard. He looked gaunt and spectral, like a goblin or troll. It was he who’d slit that prisoner’s throat at Kyzyl station— “You tell me,” I murmured. He jumped up and pushed me against the wall. “You’re insolent, undisciplined, and ungrateful,” he said, his face inches from mine. “That will change. Once at the front you’ll act as my orderly. You will say ‘sir.’ You will salute. In other words, you’ll comport yourself like a real soldier.”
Harbin City, Manchuria, China, November 23, 1904.
Tatar horseman raced beside the train, hooves tracking oval shadows in the sand, sunlight glinting from his tunic, leggings, and pommel. Watching him, I fell into a deep sleep and, when I awoke, desert had become grassland, barren mountains stippled with larch and pine, and tents and corrals had been replaced by walled houses, pagodas, gardens, shops, and inns. Harbin City. Chernovsky, Melnikov, and I lugged our kit bags from our compartment and jumped from the train. The sta35
tion platform was crowded with soldiers coaxing horses from livestock coaches and wheeling trunks and crates onto barrows and wagons. A sergeant-major checked our papers and marched the three of us away from the station toward an idling motortruck. We didn’t protest or question our orders, glad that we still retained the special status that set us apart from the other soldiers. As we climbed in back, an icy drizzle began to fall. We huddled beneath a leaky tarp, the rain seeping inside our overcoats and boots. Artillery fire echoed from the nearby mountains. We rode for several hours, the truck jouncing over ruts and boulders. Eventually we reached a temple or monastery, its wooden gate carved with halfeffaced demons and gods but with a Russian Orthodox cross affixed to its crest. A hooded monk (Russian? Chinese?) hurried into the yard. He bowed and showed us inside, where we shrugged off our packs and unraveled our bedrolls. He lit a fire in the grate. We were too tired to cook and so ate tinned cold biscuits and jam before climbing into our sleep-sacks. The monk bowed again and left. But I couldn’t sleep. I thought again about Pelov and 36
how casually he had been murdered by Chernovsky and Melnikov. And who were all three’s benefactors, if not also Chierden or Lee? Or were Chierden and Lee agents acting on someone else’s behalf? And why no protest, no investigation into Pelov’s disappearance? Unless his death was inconsequential after all, despite his (and our) special status. Then, I thought, of how much value was my own life? Around dawn Chierden shook me awake and gestured for me to follow him. Upstairs was a long narrow hall empty save for a pair of bedrolls and packs propped beside a large trestle table. Its surface was covered with military maps scored with notes, erasures, cross-outs, and other marks. “I don’t expect you to sympathize with what Major Lee and I do,” Chierden said. “You’re the son and grandson of pacifists and I’m sure you’ve been inculcated since birth with their nonsense.” He pointed to the map. “This is the result of our latest intelligence. See those red arcs and lines in the mountains in the east? That’s the Japanese Army of the Yalu poised to cross the Han River. And the plains to the west? That’s the Japanese Third 37
Army, moving north to Tish-ling.” He paused, as if for effect. But this was no performance; by then I had learned that Chierden was incapable of bombast or hyperbole. I remembered what I’d read in one of Melnikov’s books. “A classic pincer’s move,” I murmured and then swallowed hard. “That’s right. A trap. If I had known earlier—” Again he paused. “I suggest you memorize as much of this map as you can: landmarks, elevations, troop movements, and so forth. See in the southwest? The forests? No Japanese there, nor any within a hundred miles. That should not change. Do you understand what I’m saying?” “I think so.” “You shouldn’t rely on me henceforth. You need to make your own way. South to our forces in Mukden or—” Shots rang out in the courtyard below. Chierden grabbed his pistol and crawled to the window. I followed. We saw Melnikov and Chernovsky below, practice shooting at a row of Buddha statues against the courtyard wall. Heads and torsos burst and clattered along the paving stones. “Go down and tell them to stop, damn it,” Chierden 38
said, holstering his pistol. “And then find Major Lee. I need to talk to him.” I went outside. “Have you heard?” Chernovsky said. “We’re going to the front. Every cook, orderly, and clerk to the trenches.” ~ I found Major Lee near a chapel. It was unfinished and already a ruin, its cross and copper dome glinting with rust within an icy patch of brush and thistle. Lee was smoking a cigarette and watching me. “Colonel Chierden—” I began. “Wants to see me?” he finished. I nodded. “No doubt he’s shown you the map. Well, our situation is not as dire as he believes. How do you think we’ve acquired such intelligence? By our diligence in convincing many Chinese that Japan is the far more dangerous enemy.” He flicked the butt in the snow. “Please come with me.” We trampled through the brush for about a mile until reaching a half-collapsed mill with a waterwheel suspended above a frozen creek. Smoke curled from its chimney. A narrow, steep path led to a low-slung doorway. Inside, an old man and a young girl squatted by a furnace while another woman crouched nearby, a squall39
ing infant in her lap. Cinders and smoke blew about the small stone room. I felt nauseous, my eyes tearing and I was choking from the fumes as Lee edged closer to the old man. They spoke in Chinese, Lee calmly, the old man less so—spittle flew from his ruined mouth. Lee responded, never raising his voice, and eventually the old man grew silent. The major turned to me. “I just told Chu-Tse that you may be staying on after the colonel and I go. It will be safer than your striking out on your own.” Lee said to the girl, “Mei-Ying?” She turned to him. “Gregory Gregoravich here will need your help when we’re gone.” “Yes, Major Lee,” she said in Russian. “Good. Thank you. I must return to the monastery now.” He rose to leave. Mouth agape, I stared after the major. Mei-Ying tugged at my jacket. “Come with me.” I followed. She couldn’t have been more than twelve or thirteen years old. She wore only a padded tunic, silk trousers, and slippers. A crucifix shone at the hollow of her throat. Dodging rafters, we descended icy stairs into a dark, cold cellar. Beyond a chink in the rock, waterfalls plunged and icicles tinkled and shattered. 40
All the while the girl kept up a steady banter (in fluent Russian!) as if for a diversion: about how she knew Major Lee (he had lived for several years in the neighborhood), about the local partisans (Communist, Nationalist, anti-Japanese, anti-Russian), and about how her own family and neighbors fared as victims of so much factional violence. “And how did you learn Russian so well?” I asked as we climbed outside and down to the creek bed. “From missionaries who used to live here. I had grown up in their household, but they left when war was declared. They asked me to go with them, but I couldn’t abandon my aunt and uncle.” We passed the chapel, beyond which was a large courtyard I hadn’t seen before, also ruined but obviously ancient, with gravestones alongside one wall and a large bronze bell in the center. The bell was riddled with a wide crack through which I could see a larger-than-life bronze Buddha. From nearby frozen weeds the girl plucked a fresh crimson flower and, bowing, set it in the statue’s lap. “A flower that blooms in winter,” I murmured. “For the Buddha Avalokiteshvara,” she said, “the 41
‘Holder of the Lotus,’ goddess of compassion and love.” “Aren’t you Christian? “We still must honor our forbears. But I have brought you here to show you something else as well.” Mei-Ying gestured toward an entrance behind the statue, which, I saw, led into a kind of crypt or vault. “It would be safer for you to stay here than with us. And I will come every day with food and firewood—” I walked over and stared into the small, narrow doorway. The stairs were steep but the roof so low that I would have to crouch once inside the crypt. I wondered if it was her family’s safety that Mei-Ying feared for rather than mine. But didn’t Chierden have the better plan anyway? I shivered, the nausea I felt earlier returning. Chierden. His face, and mine, in the mirror. The resemblance— could he be my father? It would explain so much! But why didn’t he admit it? Unless he was still deciding if I was worthy enough to claim me as his son. And what about my claim on him? Did I want him as a father? He was a torturer and murderer—and a coward too for abandoning my mother and me so many years ago. 42
~ When I returned to the monastery I saw that Melnikov and Chernovsky were gone, along with most of their effects (though Melnikov had forgotten his Kizlyar knife). Lee and Chierden were gone too, though their gear and maps were still upstairs. I stashed my own things next to theirs and built up a fire in one of the grates. I read and sketched the rest of the afternoon and fell asleep soon after sunset. Later that night screams awoke me. I scrambled into my clothes and rushed outside. A woman, naked and in flames, raced about the courtyard and then fell into the snow. She writhed about, screaming, even after the snow had extinguished the fire. Chierden and Lee went over and stood beside her, Chierden firing his revolver at her head. I returned inside and began stowing my gear. I meant to lit out from the monastery—to leave now—when Chierden suddenly appeared. “Change of plans,” he said. “Pack my and Lee’s things too. We’re moving to regimental headquarters.”
Two Weeks Later, Mukden, Manchuria, December 4, 1904.
arching single file with hundreds of other soldiers, my back bent by a full pack and rifle, I stared straight ahead as an officer on horseback cantered beside us, harrying the men with imprecations and threats. The wind smelled of nervous horseflesh and carbolic gas. Rockets shrieked low in the sky. Shattered tree trunks rimed with old snow blinked in the dawn. ~ At regimental headquarters I had applied myself to 44
my “new” duties. I bunked with the soldiers near Chierden’s tent, and, when not drilling, saw to the colonel’s private needs: polishing his boots, laundering his clothes, serving his meals. We spoke little, and never again mentioned my deserting. But I never stopped thinking about it. On the morning of December 1 I seized my chance. But I was caught a few hours later, by Cossack officers who were on the lookout for deserters like me, and returned to Chierden. He was in his tent with the general (who didn’t deign to look at me) and did not contravene the arresting officers’ standing orders. As punishment I was marched to the camp’s far perimeter for sentry duty. The Japanese were less than a hundred yards away. I was left there alone with but one round of ammunition, my only other weapon Melnikov’s Kizlyar knife, which I’d concealed in my boot. A day and a night passed. Then, during the early hours of my third night, I awoke to silence. The Japanese were gone. Finally I could escape—but I vowed first to sneak back to Chierden’s tent and exact my revenge. Which, in the end, I couldn’t do. 45
Several hours later, the Japanese attacked our front lines, and before I again could desert I was swept up in the chaos. . . . ~ At the forward trenches we dug in as snow began to fall. About a hundred yards away the Sunghai River glistened, sluggish beneath a jacket of ice. I leaned into the trench, my coat wet and rank, my boots cracked and swollen. I imagined myself metamorphosing, my muscle, sinew, and bone sloughing into rock, mud, and ice. At that sector of the front, we were all strangers, stragglers, and survivors. Eventually the general himself appeared, gamely clutching his horse’s reins as he galloped beside the trenches, the wind drowning out his voice and the snowfall making him all but invisible. After he left, a signal flare burst low in the sky and we swarmed over the trenches. I thrust my bayoneted rifle before me. A shell exploded nearby, hurtling the soldier beside me high into the air. I leaped sideways to escape the blast, walloping my skull with my rifle butt before landing back in the ditch. I touched my forehead where I’d been struck and my fingers came away sticky with blood. 46
Automatic weapon fire raked the ground ahead; I pressed myself against the earth, clawing at it with my fingernails. Bullets cleaved the air just above my head, slamming into my rucksack. My nostrils filled with the stench of singed cloth and flesh. When the gunfire stopped, I lifted my head. Enemy shells were pummeling the Sunghai River about a hundred yards ahead. Then I watched—unbelievingly—as Russian cavalry charged across the river, leaping from the embankment—and then skidding across the ice and into the churning water. Horses squealed and men screamed as the ice closed over them. I blacked out. Hours later, I came to, lying on my back inside a circle of fiery ruin. The sun had set but dusk lingered. I stared sideways at my reflection in a scummy pool of water. I spat blood, rummaged inside my mouth for broken teeth, and spat them out too. Snow began to fall again and all guns had gone silent. I crawled toward what looked like an officer’s corpse and stripped it of its greatcoat. Inside one pocket I felt a loaded revolver and stuffed it in my shirt and staggered to my feet. I decided to return to the monastery. But I couldn’t 47
get my bearings, the landscape had so changed. Again I rooted through my officer’s pockets, this time grasping a compass—much more valuable, I thought, than the revolver. In a nearby kitchen wagon’s debris I found a crate of vegetables. I smashed it apart with my rifle butt and gnawed at a frozen cabbage before finding softer fare, but most was rotten and unrecognizable. My hunger sated for now, I left to look for the monastery. To my surprise it was no more than a mile or so away and appeared empty and undamaged. I entered, built a fire in the main hall, and quickly fell asleep—only to wake just a few minutes later to the sound of horse hooves in the courtyard. I fumbled in the greatcoat’s pockets for the revolver and aimed it, trembling, at a silhouetted figure in the doorway. “Please don’t shoot,” the man said wearily. It was Major Lee. He wore a long leather coat and fur hat. He advanced toward me and took off his gloves to beat the snow from his boots. “I thought you’d be here.” He removed his coat and began to knead his hands before the fire. “We’re lucky the Japanese haven’t arrived yet. The Russians have regrouped about fifteen miles to the north, 48
with the Japanese’s main supply roads a few miles east. Though they’ll probably appear nearby soon enough.” “And Chierden?” “Why do you care?” I didn’t answer. “And I don’t either. This was never my war. My assignment was to liaison with Russian intelligence to monitor or prevent acts of sabotage along the border with China. But my job is done and I’m returning home.” “I thought you and Chierden were friends.” “If you want to see your mother again, you best think of yourself and not of Chierden. And I don’t see what further obligation I have to him—or to you, for that matter. It’d only place myself in jeopardy, me with a Russian in tow and no way to mistake you for Chinese.” I still had my revolver trained on Lee. I cocked the trigger. My grip, never steady, grew even less so. Suddenly I dropped it as I leaned forward to puke up whatever I’d eaten earlier at the kitchen wagon. “All the more reason to leave you here,” he murmured, enfolding me in his leather coat and sitting beside me before the fire. ~ We spent a hard winter traveling south. I had come 49
down with dysentery, and for the next several weeks drifted in and out of consciousness, delirious with fever, tucked in the back of a wagon and swaddled in blankets and straw. We jounced along narrow mountain roads, alongside icy gorges and beneath steep, vertical cliffs. Falls thundered, their peals scaling the sky. Now and then through the wagon’s canvas flap I’d glimpse Lee, shoulders stooped, leaning forward on the buckboard. Sometimes he’d halt and climb in beside me to massage my limbs or just lie there until we both stopped shivering. We somehow slipped past Japanese and Russian lines—several times—without ever being caught. Hail pelted the wagon, ice froze its cover. Sometimes Lee would caress my forehead and press a phial against my lips, urging me to drink, the potion tasting nauseous and bitter. Then my eyes would close and again I’d spiral into darkness. Farther south, after entering China proper, we took refuge in some temple caves but also sought lodging at inns and hostels. Once at one such inn I awoke before first light and caught Lee staring pensively out the win-
dow. Rain drummed the rooftop. Other travelers, wagons, and livestock moved along the lantern-lit quay below. A group of monks was also there, sitting cross-legged as the ferrymen, grappling with ropes and poles, nosed the craft to the nearer shore. Lee too sat cross-legged. He hadn’t dressed yet, and looked wraithlike and skeletal in just a loincloth. He turned to me. “How are you feeling?” “Much better,” I said, surprised, my fever now gone. “I decided not to risk entering Peking. We’re heading farther south, to Shanghai.” I scowled. “You don’t approve?” “It’s west and north I need to go. You seem to take me anywhere but.” He didn’t answer. Later we joined the monks and other travelers by the ferry landing. The sun had risen and the sky had grown clear, and instead of snow, flurries of cherry blossoms swirled in the mist and spray as we crossed the Yangtse River.
Shanghai, China, April 23, 1905.
n Shanghai, the lanes and alleys were jammed with wagons and rickshaws, the air dense with cooking grease and the stench of garbage. Parrots and macaws screeched from a bird market nearby, fishmongers squawked from their tiny stalls, and feral dogs loped, followed by clouds of blue flies. In a brothel’s courtyard prostitutes in western costume and reeking of sour perfume lolled beside a pair of dragon portals. Lee and I climbed down from the wagon. A woman—the madam—burst through the doors and 52
hurried toward Lee. They hugged, speaking in rapid-fire Mandarin. She smiled at me and squeezed my arm before hurrying away again. “We’ll stay here a night or so,” Lee said. “The madam and I are old friends.” “And then what?” “We’ll see how well you’re feeling.” Night fell. Lee left, not telling me where or why. Our room was above the stables and not in the brothel itself. From my cot I glimpsed through a window the nearby waterfront, and could hear the cacophony of motorcars and trolleys and the odd blend of western dance music and ancient Chinese ballads. In our time so far, Lee never spoke of his family, and I didn’t press him for details. At first I sensed some great personal tragedy similar to my own, and I wanted to respect his privacy. Later I thought him a secret fanatic, wholly devoted to some political or religious conspiracy that demanded silence from its members. But then what was the basis of his connection with Chierden and my family? An obligation periphery or perhaps central to his cause? And Chierden—was he part of the same cause, and thus also pledged to secrecy? But what ideals could 53
possibly demand the sacrifice of one’s family, one’s identity, one’s normal life? I rose, shaking, from my cot. I felt ill again, but no longer racked by the same degree of pain and grief. I made my way to the stables below. Our wagon and horse were gone. So I walked across the courtyard toward the brothel. Inside I heard whispers and laughter from behind screens and closed doors. Smoke, piquant and cloying, wafted about, and here and there flashed rouged mouths, painted nails, black-stockinged legs. I asked, in Russian (which now sounded as strange to me as their Mandarin) to speak with the madam, and was brought to a room at the top of a landing. She sat smoking a pipe behind a large desk, atop which hulked a shiny, black Remington typewriter. The desk’s pigeonholes were crammed with papers. She extracted an envelope from among them and handed it to me. My name, in Russian, was on it, written, I saw, in Lee’s hand. Inside were ten crisp U.S. twenty-dollar bills. “Major Lee a very good man,” she said, her eyes tearing up (though the smoke made my eyes tear as well). “He left. Gone! Want you to have.” Dumbfounded, I thanked her, returned to my room, 54
grabbed my rucksack and sketchbooks, and left the brothel. I followed the lanes and alleys until I reached the waterfront. Barges, freighters, and junks crowded the milelong quay, while beside it on Zhongshan Road streetcars clattered by and pedestrians (both Chinese and Westerners) rushed about in top-hats and pinstripes and nearly all brandishing umbrellas. It began to rain. I ducked beneath an awning and, curious, entered what was a small theater. The air was thick with tobacco smoke, though only one or two people sat in the audience. They stared up at a screen that at first I thought had projections from a magic lantern show. But the scenes moved in a rapid sequence of images: pictures of the traffic on Zhongshan Road, workers leaving a factory’s gates, a locomotive speeding head-on down the tracks. Then soldiers clambering over a trench and disappearing into artillery smoke. (Or was that the theater’s tobacco fumes?) The projections came from above and behind me. Curiouser still, I groped my way toward a narrow stairwell that led to an even smaller space jammed with a kind of scaffolding inside which a man stood, cranking a device 55
that in turn fed a narrow strip of film or paper between sprockets, a lens, and a lamp. The operator wore a frayed, black suit and collarless shirt. His face was flushed and perspiring. “Who the hell are you?” he sputtered in English when he saw me. He stopped cranking and switched off the lamp. “The pictures, the battle—” I struggled with the little English I knew. “That was Port Arthur. Four months ago. Are you Russian? Were you there?” “Sunghai River, last winter. The war, it over?” He nodded. “The Japanese trounced you Russians!” “I am glad the killings are over,” I murmured. He pointed at my sketchbook. “What’s that?” “Drawings. Mine.” “You an artist, huh? War correspondent? That’s what I do. Or used to do. Not your war. The Boxer Rebellion.” He snapped his fingers. “Lemme see.” I handed him the sketchbook. He propped it beneath the lamp, switched the light on, and began turning pages. Most were wrinkled and blurry and others torn or missing. I hadn’t seen the drawings in a long time, and didn’t 56
want to now. But I watched out of the corner of my eye as he stared at the pictures: my mother and grandfather in our dacha’s garden; Marya beneath the bridge at Ufa; Chernovsky, Pelov, and Melnikov on the train between Nogi-Tem and Kyzyl; the general and Irena at Lake Baikal, Mei-Ying at Harbin. Major Lee. Colonel Chierden. The American pointed to Chierden. “He looks like you. Your father?” I didn’t answer, wishing I had destroyed the sketchbook, left it on the banks of the Sunghai River. “What’s your name?” “Gregory Gregoravich Sandiuesky.” “I’ll call you Greg or Gregory, if that’s OK. My name’s Frank Stein. You have a good eye, good technique too. How’s your English? You understand me?” I nodded. “I read American books. Walt Whitman and Mark Twain.” “You ever see motion pictures before?” I shook my head. “Well, don’t judge their popularity by the audience you see here tonight. This theater usually shows Peking opera, and I’ve been renting it for just a couple nights— leaving for America tomorrow, in fact. You look like you 57
could use a meal. I’d like to hear how you got from Manchuria to Shanghai.” I helped pack the equipment. We then locked the projection room and went downstairs. Frank turned on the house lights and shooed the remaining customers outside. I then followed him to Zhongshan Road and to a “chop suey joint” he liked, a “hole-in-the-wall” crammed with screaming customers (mostly Chinese) and billowing with steam and the pungent odors of onions, ginger, and garlic. I never used chopsticks before but Frank showed me how. “Where you staying, Gregory?” “A brothel.” He laughed, nearly spilling his bowl. “The depths to you have no end, do they?” He snorted. “I want to go with you to America.” “Do you now?” “I have money.” I let him peak at the envelope and then quickly put it away. ~ The next day we rode a rickshaw to the quay, stopping at a small, beat-up freighter flying the Dutch flag. The 58
captain, a thin, wizened man, introduced himself. His name was Vetter. “You came just in time,” the captain said. “We leave in an hour.” He added, “A small problem with the British.” “Damn it, Vetter!” Frank turned to me. “Take the rickshaw back to the theater and grab the camera gear. I’ll see to our accommodations on board.” ~ Later that afternoon our ship steamed from the quay. The Changjiang River, which led to the East China Sea, was crammed with junks and rafts, the beach with tents and lean-tos. I paced the deck and bridge, waved and screamed back at the crowds lining the shore, feeling both revery and heartache, like currents flowing past each other but in opposite directions. But I vowed that America, while it might be my next destination—and my new homeland—would not be the end of the journey.
END OF BOOK ONE WATCH FOR BOOK TWO: PRACHECHNY BRIDGE Publication Date: May 1, 2011
Joseph (Zisi) E. Lerner was born in Baltimore, Maryland, in 1950. He was named after his paternal grandfather, who fled Russia for America in 1904. Red Lotus is his first published novel.
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