Red Crosses is the only novel by Belarusian writer Sasha Filipenko translated into English. Since both the title and the cover caught my attention, I thought I’d take a look, but I couldn’t put it down and finished it in one sitting. Red Crosses is a delightful novel full of great characters, horrific events that shocked the world, and idiots you want to strangle.
Red Crosses is about the extraordinary friendship of a young man who wants to forget what happened and an older woman in her nineties who doesn’t want to forget anything when she dies so that she can ask God for what she’s been through. Sasha moves to an apartment in Minsk in order to get rid of his past and start a new life for his 3-month-old daughter, free from prejudices. He sees a red cross marked on his door the next day.
While trying to clear this mark, his neighbour Tatiana Alexeyevna states that she made the mark herself. She tells Sasha that she did such a thing not to forget some things because she has Alzheimer’s disease, and this is how the friendship of these two began.
God’s afraid of me. I have too many inconvenient questions for him.Tatiana Alexeyevna
Although the narrator of Red Crosses is Sasha, the story belongs to Tatiana Alexeyevna. Of course, we also learn about Sasha’s traumatic past, but we discover it thanks to Tatiana Alexeyevna because Sasha wants to forget everything. Tatiana Alexeyevna’s history takes the reader to the time of Stalin’s Great Purge. Little by little, we learn about Tatiana’s experiences, with everything that pierces the depths of her memory. When reading the story, one feels the pressure on people, the paranoia that everyone experienced at the time.
What pissed me off and upset me the most in Red Crosses was the attitudes of people who were brainwashed by propaganda, who didn’t even believe what they heard firsthand. I know that these types of creatures are everywhere, and they always will be till the end of time. But I still have a hard time accepting it. I am talking about people who do not believe what they see with their own eyes, who deliberately choose the wrong thing despite all the data they have, and who vigorously defend it. I get surprised and angry every time these creatures poison the world with their hearsay knowledge and unbelievably stupid characters.
But, you see, Tatiana Alexeyevna showed me very nicely that even getting angry about these things is futile because she knows better than anyone else what can and will not change and in what situations people disguise themselves. When Red Crosses was over, I wished Tatiana would call to account for the God she had found in the Gulag and believed so stubbornly to hold to account. But you can guess how many real names I have given the character Tatiana.
Red Crosses was a novel that I read with pleasure, both in terms of its plot, characters, and moments and narration. I found the beautiful depth I seek in literary novels and an engaging narrative. I recommend it to everyone.
“If you want to get inside the head of modern, young Russia, read Filipenko.”―SVETLANA ALEXIEVICH (Nobel Prize winner, 2015)
A heart-wrenching novel exploring both personal and collective memory spanning Russian history from Stalin’s terror to the present day.
Tatiana Alexeyevna is 90 years old and she’s losing her memory. To find her way in her Soviet-era apartment block, she resorts to painting red crosses on the doors leading back to her apartment. But she still remembers the past in vivid detail.
Alexander, a young man whose life has been brutally torn in two, would like nothing better than to forget the tragic events that have brought him to Minsk. When he moves into the flat next door to Tatiana’s, he’s cornered by the loquacious old lady. Reluctant at first, he’s soon drawn into Tatiana’s life story – one told urgently, before her memories of the Russian 20th century and its horrors are wiped out.
The two forge an unlikely friendship, a pact against forgetting giving rise to a new sense of hope in the future. Deeply moving, with flashes of humour, Red Crosses is a shining narrative in the tradition of the great Russian novel.
Sasha Filipenko, born in Minsk in 1984, is a Belarusian author who writes in Russian. After abandoning his classical music training, he studied literature in St. Petersburg and worked as a journalist, screenwriter and author for a satire show. Sasha Filipenko lives in St. Petersburg.Red Crosses is his only book translated into English.
Reading this book contributed to these challenges: