by Eugene Yelchin
First sentence: “I’m a risk taker.”
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Arcady is the best soccer player. Period. So much so, that when the inspectors of the home he’s been placed in come, the director makes a show out of Arcady’s skills. He — Arcady calls him Butterball — puts Arcady up against increasingly larger players, expecting him to beat them. And he does.
But, when one inspector, who’s not quite like the others, comes to visit, Arcady ends up being adopted. Which is not something Arcady bargained on. Nor he he bargain that his new father, Ivan Ivanovich, comes with secrets of his own.
One of the things Yelchin does best is humanize Stalin’s Russia. It’s so easy to push everything from that era off into Things/People were Bad. And Stalin put everyone in concentration camps. But, Yelchin gives us the stories of the children — Arcady ended up in a home because his parents were taken for being enemies of the state — and how Stalin’s policies affected everyday life. They’re simple stories, but they paint a picture of a people who were wronged — even if they weren’t taken — by their leader.
It’s a simple little book, full of illustrations. And there’s a lot of talk about soccer, so there’s an appeal for the soccer lovers. But mostly it’s a portrait of a relationship between to damaged people, and the path to healing.