Illustration by xxx

presents a detailed summary of:

Mikhail Sholokhov

It is early spring in the upper reaches of the Don.

A traveler and his companion are traversing the 60 kilometers to the district center of Bukanovskaya. With a pair of horses and a heavy cart, the going is hard over the mush of sand mixed with ice and snow.

They reach the village of Mokhovskoy. From there, they must cross a river. The only way to make the crossing is in a small, leaky, flat-bottomed boat. On the other side of the river is a jeep.

The traveler and the jeep driver cross the river in the boat. They must constantly bail out water to keep afloat. A wave washes over them, soaking the traveler from the waist down.

When they reach the other side, the driver brings out the jeep. Then he gets back into the boat, promising to return with the traveler's companion in a few hours.

The traveler sits down, enjoying the sun and the quiet. He is annoyed to find out that his cigarettes were soaked in the crossing. He lays them out to dry.

A man named Andrei approaches from the village. With him in a boy of about 5 or 6 years old named Vanya. The boy's clothes are plain, but well mended and cared for--obviously by a woman. Andrei's clothes, however, are scorched in several places and badly darned.

While Vanya plays, Andrei shares some of his tobacco with traveler. They both were soldiers during the war. Andrei beings to tell the story of his difficult life:

What did you do it for, life? Why did you maim me like this? Why did you punish me so?
Andrei was born in 1900. He served in the Red Army during the Civil War. During the famine of 1922, he went to the Kuban to work for kulaks. But his father, mother, and sister died of starvation.

Afterwards, Andrei had various occupations, eventually becoming a mechanic. He married Irina, a good-tempered, cheerful woman. She was mild and tender with Andrei even when he yelled at her or came home drunk.

In the fullness of time, they had three children. Andrei became a responsible parent and gave up serious drinking (just a beer now and then).

In 1929 Andrei became a driver. He enjoyed his work and made decent money. The family built a small cottage near an aircraft factory.

Then came the war. Andrei was called up into the Army, like all good Soviet citizens. As he was boarding the train to leave with his unit, Irina clung to him, wailing and sobbing, "We'll never see each other again in this world." To this day, Andrei remembers that scene like a blunt knife twisting in his heart.

Andrei served as a truck driver, delivering artillery shells. He was slightly wounded twice. Then in May of 1942, he was speeding toward the front lines with a load of ammunition when his truck was hit by a long-range German shell.

When Andrei regained consciousness, he realized with shock that the front lines had been pushed back and he is now in German territory. It wasn't long before the Germans caught up with Andrei and made him a prisoner--after first stealing his boots of course.

Illustration by xxx With a column of other Soviet prisoners, Andrei was marched westward. They spent the night in a ruined church. In the dark, one of the prisoners who was a doctor, crept from man to man helping the wounded. He yanked Andrei's dislocated shoulder back into alignment.

One of the Soviet prisoners was a Christian believer, and he couldn't bear the thought of relieving himself in the church. "I can't pollute a holy place!" he shouted. The other Soviet soldiers merely teased him and laughed at him. Having to relieve himself really urgently, the Christian pounded on the door, begging to be let out. The Germans responded with a sub-machine gun blast through the door. The Christian was killed, along with four others.

During the night, one of the soldiers, Kryzhnev, told a platoon commander that when the Germans ask, he (Kryzhnev) will gladly finger the platoon commander as a Communist. The platoon commander pleaded, "Don't give me away, Comrade Kryzhnev". Kryzhnev responded, "I'm no comrade of yours. I believe in looking after my own skin first."

Andrei was appalled by this traitor. So while Kryzhnev was sleeping, Andrei jumped on him and strangled him to death. Afterward, he felt the urge to wash his hands, as if it wasn't a man he killed but some crawling snake. That was the first man Andrei ever killed.

The next morning the Germans lined up the prisoners and demanded to know who was a Jew, a Communist, or a commissar. About half of the prisoners fell into these categories, but no one gave anyone away. In the end, the Germans pulled out one real Jew and three Russians with dark, curly hair, and killed them all.

The prisoners were marched all the way to Poznan. Andrei was sent into the forest to dig graves for the many prisoners who are dying of dysentery. Taking advantage of the guards' laxity, Andrei made a break for it. In four days, he got 40 kilometers away, but he was eventually tracked down by bloodhounds and recaptured.

With other prisoners, Andrei was sent to work at a series of different factories and mines all throughout Germany. All the while, the Germans were punching, kicking, and beating the prisoners with sticks, rifle butts, rubber truncheons, and iron bars.

Andrei wound up in a camp near Dresden, where the prisoners were set to work in a stone quarry. The work was so hard and the food rations so meager that after two months, in Andrei's group of 142 men, only 57 were left.

One day, Andrei grumbled about the work. It turned out that there was an informer among the prisoners, and so the camp commandant learned of Andrei's words.

Andrei was summoned to the commandant, who announced that, because of those words, Andrei would now have the honor of being shot by the commandant personally. But first the commandant offered Andrei a glass of schnapps and told him to drink a toast to the triumph of German arms. Andrei politely refused to drink the toast. The commandant then told Andrei to drink a toast to his own death. Andrei agreed to this suggestion, and downed the schnapps.

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The commandant offered Andrei some bread. Trying to preserve his dignity, Andrei refused the bread, saying he never eats after the first drink. After a second drink, Andrei again refused the bread. This caused the Germans to laugh with amusement. The commandant decided to spare Andrei's life. Besides, he said, there's something to celebrate: the Germans have just captured Stalingrad.

The commandant gave Andrei some bread and bacon fat and sent him back to the barracks. Andrei shared the food equally with all the other men in his barracks.

By 1944, some of the German arrogance was gone. Andrei was assigned to chauffeur around a major who's in charge of building defenses. When they were working around Polotsk, Andrei heard the sound of distant Soviet artillery, which caused his heart to jump with excitement.

Andrei hatched a plot to escape. He found a chuck of metal and some wire, which he hid in the car. One day, when the major was sleeping, Andrei clobbered him over the head with the iron and tied him up.

Andrei then drove toward the sound of shooting and sped eastward right across the front line. Germans were shooting at him from behind, and Soviets were firing at him from the front. But he leapt out of the car and identified himself to the Red Army men.

Andrei was cleaned up, questioned, fed, and given a uniform to wear. A colonel warmly thanked Andrei for the gift of the German major and the papers in his briefcase, which provided them with much valuable information about the German positions. The colonel promised to recommend Andrei for a medal.

Andrei was sent to a hospital to recover. He wrote to Irina telling her everything that happened. A few weeks later, he got back a letter, not from Irina, but from a neighbor. It seems a German bomb fell directly on Andrei's cottage, killing Irina and their daughters. Andrei's son, Anatoli, survived, and went to volunteer to serve on the front.

After recovery, Andrei resumed service as a military truck driver. Finally, he got some good news. His son, Anatoli, was alive. He graduated from artillery school and was now a captain command a battery. Anatoli had even been decorated six times.
Red Army takes Berlin!

Photo by Evgeni Khaldei
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In Berlin's Neighborhoods

At the end of the war, both Andrei and Anatoli arrived in Berlin, having come by different routes. Andrei was filled with dreams of a happy postwar life. But then, on the 9th of May, on the morning of Victory Day, Anatoli was killed by a German sniper. Andrei says, "I buried my last joy and hope in that foreign German soil."

After that, Andrei was a broken man, sad and depressed. Following demobilization, he refused to return to his home in Voronezh. Instead, he went to live with a army buddy in Uryupinsk. There he got work as a truck driver, hauling grain and other loads.

After work, Andrei would regularly stop by at a café for a glass of vodka. It was there he first noticed Vanya, a dirty, scruffy ragamuffin, living off whatever food people gave him.

One day, Andrei invited Vanya to go for a ride. Vanya told Andrei that his father was killed at the front and his mother died when a bomb hit a train. He has no one else. Andrei suddenly felt, why should they suffer alone and separate. He told Vanya that he is his father, who has been looking for him all this time. Vanya immediately clings to Andrei covering him with kisses, saying, "Daddy, dear! I knew you'd find me!"

Andrei brought Vanya to the house he was sharing with his army friend and his wife. They are a childless couple, and readily accepted the boy.

They all lived happily for a while, but then one day Andrei had an accident with his truck, knocking over a cow. The cow got up and walked away, but they took Andrei's license away for a year.

Another friend of Andrei's invited him to go live and work in the Kashary region, and Andrei decided to go. Even without the accident, Andrei probably would have left Uryupinsk, because he can't stay in one place long. When Vanya gets older and has to go to school, Andrei will probably knuckle under and settle down. But for the time being, they're tramping across the Russian countryside together.

Also, Andrei often has dreams about the loved ones he's lost. Mostly, it as if Andrei were behind barbed wire and his wife and children were on the other side, at liberty. When he wakes up, Andrei's pillow is soaked with tears.

The leaky boat finally arrives. Andrei bids farewell to his new acquaintance, and he and Vanya go to boat to cross the river.

The narrator/traveler closes with these words:

Two orphans, two grains of sand swept into strange parts by the tremendous hurricane of war.... What did the future hold for them? I wanted to believe that this Russian, this man of unbreakable will, would stick it out, and that the boy would grow at his father's side into a man who could endure anything, overcome any obstacle if his country called upon him to do so.

I felt sad as I watched them go. Perhaps all would have been well at our parting if Vanya after going a few paces had not twisted round on his stumpy legs and waved to me with his little rosy hand. And suddenly a soft but taloned paw seemed to grip my heart, and I turned hastily away. No, not only in their sleep do they weep, these elderly men whose hair turned gray in the years of war. They weep, too, in their waking hours. The main thing is to be able to turn away in time. The main thing is not to wound a child's heart, not to let him see that dry, burning tear on the cheek of a man."


For more on Sholkhov, visit:
107 Years of Sholokhov
see also:
Biography of Mikhail Sholokhov

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