a detailed summary of:
CITY OF BREAD
(Illustrations by N. Lyamin)
1. Twelve-year-old Mishka Dodonov lives in a village in the Samara region with his mother and two brothers--Fedka, age 4; and Yashka, age 8. His father, grandmother, grandfather, aunt, and uncle have all died of hunger.
On the street, Mishka overhears some peasant men saying that grain is plentiful in Tashkent, which is 2,000 versts distant. The only problem is you need a pass and money for a ticket to get there.
Mishka decides to go to Tashkent to get grain. He's just a kid--no one will ask him for a pass. And he can sneak aboard the train, or ride on the roof. His friend, the 11-year-old Serezhka Karpukhin, agrees to go with Mishka on the trip.
2. Mishka convinces his mother to let him undertake the trip to Tashkent.
3. & 4. Mishka and Serezhka make the long trek to the train station. Mishka is carrying some bread, and Serezhka has some potatoes. Mishka also has a couple of his grandmother's old skirts, which he intends to sell in Tashkent to get money with which to buy grain.
5. Mass chaos at the train station. Peasants climbing aboard and clambering onto the train car roofs, and Red Army soldiers shooing them away. As the train starts to leave, Mishka jumps up onto the roof of one car. A peasant asks Mishka where he's going. When Mishka says, "Tashkent", the peasant tells him he better get off because the train's going to Siberia! But it's too late. The train is picking up speed. Serezhka is racing alongside the train trying to get on. But he falls into the dust. Mishka's heart drops, fearing he and his friend will be parted forever now. But the train stops, changes tracks, and returns to the station.
Mishka finds Serezhka crying near a switchman's booth. Mishka tells his friend to wait there while he goes off to find out how to get to Tashkent.
6. Mishka learns about the Tashkent train, and he manages to beg a crust of bread off a Red Army soldier. He means to share it with Serezhka, but accidentally eats it all.
When Mishka returns to the booth, Serezhka is gone! Mishka searches and finally finds Serezhka sleeping in a crowded waiting room. Serezhka cries that he is hungry. Mishka reluctantly shares some pieces of his bread with Serezhka.
Serezhka says that he lost his sack and doesn't want to go to Tashkent anymore. Mishka upbraids him angrily, then goes to sleep. Serezhka contemplates stealing the little bread that is left in Mishka's sack. After a fierce internal struggle, Serezhka decides not to take it, however.
7. In the morning, the train for Tashkent arrives. Along with the throngs of peasants, the two boys try to find a place for themselves on the train. They straddle a train car buffer and try to keep out of sight. But a Red Army soldier spots them and starts to drag them off to the Cheka headquarters. The boys manage to escape, however, when the soldier is distracted by some peasant women trying to sneak on the train. The boys hide out until the train starts to pull out of the station, and they manage to climb aboard it.
8. The train speeds along for a great, dizzying distance. Then, unexpectedly, it comes to a stop in the middle of the countryside--something is wrong with a wheel. While the train crew works on the problem, passengers take advantage of the break to relieve themselves alongside the track. Serezhka wants to relieve himself, too, but he's afraid of losing his spot. By the time he works up the courage to descend, it's too late--the train starts moving again. Serezhka ends up peeing in his pants
9. The train slows as it approaches the station. Mishka and Serezhka hop off.
In the middle of a field, Serezhka finds a screw. Mishka is jealous. They argue over who gets to keep it. They decide to draw lots, and Mishka wins. Serezhka is glum over the loss.
10. Serezhka and Mishka walk through the crowded, filthy station. People are openly relieving themselves. Foul-smelling filth is everywhere. Peasants, who have been milling around for weeks in hopes of catching a train, are covered with lice.
Mishka sees an old man, on the verge of death, lying on the ground and clutching a crust of bread to his chest. Mishka contrives to steal the dying man's bread.
Just then, a commotion erupts. A fancily dressed lady with golden teeth is tossing small pieces of bread to the ground for the amusement she gets in watching the frenzied crowd of children fight for the crumbs. Mishka, pushing and shoving, manages to snatch five of the tossed pieces. His main opponent in the struggle is a boy named Vanka.
Mishka gives two pieces of the bread to Serezhka and keeps three for himself, because he is bigger. Serezhka is still wracked with hunger.
11. That night it rains. Serezhka is feverish and suffering from diarrhea. Mishka wishes he hadn't brought Serezhka along on the trip, but he realizes that he can't abandon his friend.
Mishka goes out onto the platform. He runs into Vanka and Vanka's cohort, Petka. The three of them end of fighting.
12. At noon another train arrives. Mishka manages to find himself a spot on it. But--although he is sorely tempted--he can't bring himself to abandon the sick Serezhka. Cursing his luck, Mishka gets off the train.
He finds a dirty potato peel lying in the mud and eats it. He begs for food from the passengers on the train, but no one is kind.
In hunger and despair, feeling alone and without hope, Mishka sits down on the ground. Unexpectedly, a kind-eyed nurse approaches and asks what the problem is. Mishka spills his guts to the nurse, telling her everything, even about Serezhka's illness.
The nurse goes to examine Serezhka and pronounces that he has typhus.
The train includes a car full of sick patients. The nurse says she will take Serezhka to a hospital at the next station. She agrees to let Mishka ride along in a corner. Mishka rejoices that there are still kind people in the world.
On the train, Mishka falls into a deep, much-needed sleep.
13. At the next station, Serezhka is admitted to the hospital, and Mishka signs for him. They agree that Mishka will go on to Tashkent, get the grain, and return to pick up the hopefully cured Serezhka on the way back home. Mishka gives Serezhka back the screw. But as he is taken into the hospital building, Serezhka forgets the screw on the porch. Mishka picks it up again.
14. Mishka spends the day begging unsuccessfully in the market. In the evening, he hears the train whistle. He is tore as to what he should do. Should he hurry straight to the train, or go to the hospital first to say good-bye to Serezhka?
Mishka hurries to the hospital. But the doors are locked, and the guard stops him from crawling into a window.
Mishka dashes to the station. There he learns that he missed the train to Tashkent. Angry, Mishka runs off in the opposite direction. He bumps into a woman, making her spill her bucket. She yells for Mishka to stop. Bystanders assume that Mishka is a fleeing thief, so they apprehend him and hand him over to the militia.
15. Mishka is brought before a Bolshevik Comrade Dunaev at the local Cheka. Mishka spins a bit of a tale. He claims he was traveling with his father and they had tickets and a pass, but they were lost when his father died along the way. He then relates the truth of the incident with the woman by the train station. Dunaev believes Mishka, but says he still must be punished for attempting to board a train without a ticket. He says Mishka will have to gather firewood with some women tomorrow.
16. Mishka spends all day hauling firewood with a group of women. One young girl with bare feet, named Nastenka, collapses from hunger. Everyone feels sorry for her, but they can do nothing to help her.
That evening, Mishka tries to beg food at the train station, but everyone just chases him away angrily and with hateful speech.
Mishka rummages around in the dirt and manages to find a fish bone, which he quickly pops into his mouth.
17. Gnawed with hunger, Mishka considers taking his grandmother's skirts out of his sack and selling them right here to buy something to eat. But he decides to wait until he gets to Tashkent, where he can get plenty of grain for them.
That night, Mishka falls into a deep sleep. In the morning, he awakens with horror: His sack with the skirts has been stolen! And with it, his last hope is gone!
18. Mishka cries for a few hours, then crawls back to the hospital to see Serezhka. The guard rudely tells Mishka to buzz off--there is no Serezhka here, he says...Serezhka's dead!
Starving and full of despair, Mishka lies down. Death hovers over him.
Just then, Comrade Dunaev passes by. He asks Mishka why he's lying down. Mishka says he's afraid or dying, because his mother and family are counting on him.
Dunaev takes Mishka to the Cheka headquarters and feeds him a good meal. He then orders a subordinate--Simakov--to deposit Mishka on the next train to Tashkent.
At the train station, Simakov opens a car packed full of muzhiks and orders them to make room for Mishka. The muzhiks aren't happy and try to resist. They must relent, however, when Simakov invokes the authority of the Cheka.
19. During the night, while pretending to be asleep, Mishka overhears the muzhiks plotting against him. If Mishka were an adult, they say, they could extort money from him. But what good is a kid?
Some muzhiks just want to toss Mishka out of the train, but they decide against this because of Mishka's vague Cheka connection.
The muzhiks finally decide that when Mishka leaves the train car to take a walk or relieve himself, they just won't let him back in.
20. The train stops in Orenburg. Aware of the muzhiks' plot against him, Mishka keeps sitting in a corner and does not leave the train car. One muzhik, named Eropka, gruffly asks Mishka how he got on the train and where he is going. Mishka spins an elaborate lie. He says his from the Buzlutsky region and is going to Tashkent to see his uncle, Vasili Mitrofanov, who's a commissar. His own father, the lying Mishka continues, worked in the Cheka and was killed by the Whites.
Eropka, it turns out, is from the same region as Mishka and doesn't believe any of his story. He never heard of a "Mitrofanov" family. Mishka insists that it's all true and that he is carrying letters from both is uncle and Dunaev promising protection.
Another muzhik, named Prokhor, believes Mishka and is respectful to him. He figures that an influential acquaintance such as Mishka could prove valuable.
One of the peasants who was plotting against Mishka tries to coax him out of the train car, but Mishka doesn't fall for it.
By the end of the day, Mishka really needs to relieve himself and can't hold it any longer. He casually stands at the door and when no one is looking, he
whips it out and whizzes. Oh, sweet relief!
21. In the deep night, Eropka announces that the engineer refuses to take the train any further until everyone pays him 100 rubles. He collects money from all the muzhiks, then demands that Mishka cough up his share. Mishka reaches into his pocket and pulls out a crumpled bunch of worthless papers. He shoves them into Eropka's sweaty palm. It's dark, so Eropka doesn't see the deception.
Eropka leaves and returns shortly, reporting that engineer is satisfied with the payment and they will start moving soon.
Mishka happily ponders the fact that it is so easy to fool the people.
22. As the train continues through the Kirghiz desert, the muzhiks tease Eropka, because he's stuck with a broken watch that he's been trying to sell.
Another muzhik name Semyon is unhappy. He is carrying four skirts which he planned to sell. Now he's been told that the Kirghiz women wear pants, not skirts. Semyon curses the Bolsheviks and Communism, considering them to blame for even this latest trouble.
Prokhor continues to suck up to Mishka, sharing some of his bread with the boy.
Mishka brags that his "uncle" wanted to give his mother a half pound of dried apricots. Prokhor believes this story, and Mishka again is amazed at how easy it is to fool people.
23. The train stops at a station. The muzhiks pile out to sell their wares to the Kirghiz. Mishka tries to sell his pocket knife for a pood of grain, but the Kirghiz just curse at him.
The train starts to leave the station. Mishka runs to catch up. He grabs a handle on a brake platform. Holding on for dear life he is dragged along, dangling between life and death. A muzhik on the platform looks at Mishka for a long time before deciding to pull him up to safety.
24. In the dead of the night, the train stops at a remote station. Mishka scrambles to get aboard one of the train cars, but they doors are all locked and no one will let him in.
Mishka feels like crying, but knows that that will do him no good.
Mishka sees another young boy, Trofim, searching through a rubbish heap. Although Trofim does not welcome the intrusion, Mishka starts searching through the rubbish as well.
A dog runs by with a crust of bread in its mouth. Both boys give chase. The boys don't get the bread. The dog runs into a pack of other hungry canines, and a fierce dog-fight begins.
Mishka and Trofim discuss their common problem--and Russia's common problem--hunger. Trofim has been at the station for four days and knows everyone's troubles...even the constantly crying woman who just buried her husband next to the tracks.
Trofim says they should join the Bolsheviks. Mishka warily says he's heard bad things about the Bolsheviks. Trofim reassures him that there are all sorts of Bolsheviks--good and bad.
Mishka and Trofim decide to travel together.
The train gets ready to leave. At first, Mishka and Trofim can't get through the human crush to get aboard. Finally, they manage to evade the keen gaze of the guards and climb aboard the train roof.
25. During the train ride, the woman lying next to Mishka on the roof dies.
For a time, they are pelted with rain. The boys huddle together to keep warm. Each of them is silently happy to have a friend, making their journey easier.
26. At the next train station, Mishka tries to sell his father's jacket, which he's been wearing the whole time. Trofim acts as a shill, trying to bid up the prices. They manage to get a good price for the jacket and buy some bread. The eat a portion of the bread under the open steppe sky. For the first time in a while, they feel satisfied and happy.
27. At the next station, soldiers kick everyone off the roof of the train and forbid anyone to board. A group of three peasant men (Pyotr, Sidor, and Ermolai) has been waiting for five days to get on a train. They decide it's useless to wait any longer. They set off on foot for Tashkent. They are accompanied by some women, a young girl, an old man, and a soldier with a wooden leg. Mishka and Trofim decide to tag along after them.
28. Mishka, Trofim, and the rag-tag assemblage trudge off across the barren steppe, following the train tracks. After many miles, the adults despair of every reaching the next station. To comfort himself, Mishka pops a crumb of bread into his mouth. The adults see this and turn on him. Things are about to get ugly when suddenly a train approaches.
Everyone scrambles, trying to jump on board the moving train. Trofim makes it. The old man falls down the railway embankment. Mishka tries to leap aboard, but misses, falls, and is knocked unconscious.
29. Ermolai, Pyotr, the wooden-legged soldier, the woman, an young girl--all having failed to get on the passing train--continue trudging on. The old man, left behind, allows his mind to wander lovingly to thoughts of his home land. And with these happy thoughts on his mind, he dies.
30. Mishka regains consciousness and sees that he is alone and abandoned in the middle of nowhere. He suffers a temporary panic attack, then pulls himself together and continues trudging on in the direction of Tashkent.
Eventually, Mishka--exhausted and fighting the urge to lie down and die--reaches the next station. It is small and not many people are there. Mishka eyes the few Kirghiz there suspiciously, fearing that they intend to do him harm. As night falls, Mishka finds an old booth to huddle up in.
During the night a rain storm begins. A train arrives at the station. Mishka runs through the wind and pouring rain to the train. But all the doors are locked and he can't get aboard.
The train engineer, named Kondratev, appears. Mishka gets down on his knees and begs for mercy. Kondratev doesn't say anything and walks away. Mishka climbs up onto the locomotive and presses himself against the metal to keep warm.
By morning the rain stops. Kondratev finds Mishka on the locomotive. Mishka again begs for help, saying he just has to get to Tashkent where some relatives are waiting for him.
The engineer invites Mishka to ride with him in the cabin. After the train gets underway, the engineer treats Mishka to some warm water and bread. Mishka is bursting with thankfulness.
At the next station, Kondratev tells Mishka that the locomotive has to undergo a few minor repairs. But he promises to whistle for Mishka when he's ready to continue.
Mishka spends the day wandering around the station, which is filled with the same type of misery as all the other stations. Night falls. Mishka begins to fear the Kondratev tricked him and will not take him any further.
31. In the morning, Kondratev and his locomotive come out of the repair shop. Kondratev takes Mishka aboard, and again they set out toward Tashkent.
Kondratev again treats Mishka to food and hot water. In thanks, Mishka offers Kondratev his knife as a present. Kondratev tries to refuse the gift, but Mishka insists.
That night, Mishka, sleeping in the locomotive cabin, dreams of home and his mother.
The next morning, the train arrives in Tashkent. Mishka bows deeply and repeatedly to Kondratev, thanking him for his assistance. As he leaves the station, Mishka discovers that his knife is back in his pocket--Kondratev evidently slipped it back in when Mishka was sleeping.
Mishka sets off into the mysterious city. He is surprised to see sick and hungry people here, too.
32. Some time later, a train deposits the unwashed, sunburned Mishka at a station near his village. He has with him two sacks full of grain.
In Tashkent, Mishka had slept under fences, suffered hunger and illness. But eventually he found work and made enough to buy his grain.
Mishka returns to his home. His brothers, Fedka and Yashka, are dead. His mother is lying sick in bed. She is overjoyed to see her returned son, and again feels the will to live.
Mishka looks around their poor homestead--nothing growing, no horse, no chickens. Mishka decides. "There's no point in grieving. I'll rebuild it all anew."
Biography of Aleksandr S. Neverov