Rabbit, Soldier, Angel, Thief
27 Oct. 2021
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Wood splinters and Mama screams and the nearest soldier seizes her roughly by the arms. My sister pokes her bruised face out from beneath the table and shouts, ‘Run, Sasha! Run!’
So I run. I run like a rabbit.
It’s spring, 1942. The sky is blue, the air is warm and sweet with the scent of flowers.
And then everything is gone.
The flowers, the proud geese, the pretty wooden houses, the friendly neighbours. Only Sasha remains.
But one small boy, alone in war-torn Russia, cannot survive. One small boy without a family cannot survive. One small boy without his home cannot survive. What that small boy needs is an army.
From the award-winning author of We Are Wolves comes the story of a young boy who becomes a soldier at six, fighting in the only way he can—with love. But is love ever enough when the world is at war?
InformationBook Type: Junior High
Age Group: 10 years +
Traffic Lights: Green/Amber
Class Novel: Yes
Good Reads Rating: 4.5/5
Literary Rating: 4/5
When Sasha wakes in a Red Army hospital after the war is over, he cannot speak or remember how he got there. Dr Orlova and the other patients give him trinkets—like flowers, feathers, soap, and buttons—that help him to jog his memory and coax him to tell his story.
First, Sasha was a rabbit. The Nazis came to his village, and his older sister helped the Partisan rebels fight them. But they were discovered, and Sasha’s sister told him to run. Sasha was left alone when their village was razed to the ground.
Next, he was a soldier. A Red Army unit found him in the woods and decided that the safest place for him was with them; he would be clothed, fed, and watched over. Sasha did his best to help them—he wanted to fight the Nazis—but they insisted that singing, helping with shaving, and giving good hugs was enough. He saw Major Gagarin as a father and called him Papa Scruff. He also made great friends with the rest of the unit—from the wonderful medic Natasha to the Invincible Ivan.
Then, he was an angel. During the fight to hold Stalingrad, his unit was holed up in a basement and he did his best to keep everyone’s spirits up. He came across Igor, a Red Army soldier, alone in the ruins, and when he led him back to his unit they discovered that he was a reporter. Igor ran a story about Sasha, calling him the “Angel of Stalingrad”, in the paper which helped to bring hope to people across the country.
Sasha made a friend, Nina, but her building was bombed and he never saw her again. He also met a dying German soldier called Luka, who had a family just like the men in his own unit. Maybe Luka wasn’t a monster—but if the Germans weren’t evil, why would they be doing this to Russia?
Last, he was a thief. The Russians had retained Stalingrad and the unit had begun to march for Berlin. On the way, some of the men looted the German villages. They justified it by claiming it as a recompense for what happened to the villages in Russia, and this explanation made sense to Sasha; after all, these people had so much, and he had so little. In one village, Sasha took a watch to give to Papa Scruff. But he was quickly reminded that these civilians were not responsible for the invasion of Russia, and violence for violence never fixed anything. He returned the stolen items. After the German defeat, an unexploded mine put Sasha in hospital.
Having finally remembered how he ended up in the hospital, Sasha thinks he’s the only one to have survived the explosion—but luckily, Natasha and Ivan appear. Most of the unit have recovered, but Major Gagarin—Papa Scruff—passed away. Natasha and Ivan take Sasha in as their son.
Based on an almost inconceivable true story, the tale of Sasha’s experiences in the war provides a rare historical perspective on the vulnerability of children in war zones. His kindness, courage, and steadfast belief in his unit make this an uplifting read and the humorous anecdotes about the soldiers add levity. At the same time, Sasha’s dawning realisation of the grey morality of warfare is handled deftly and to great effect.
courage, morality, historical, WWII, Soviet Russia, Red Army, innocence, hope, resilience
1. Nazis burn Sasha’s village to the ground (p. 46). Nina‘s apartment is bombed (p. 180). Sasha thinks Barinov is dead (p. 216), but he is alive. Luka dies (p. 221). Lutsenko and Sleepy Bear die off-page (p. 244). Sasha’s dog Shadow dies (p. 251). Major Fyodor Gagarin dies off-page (p. 301). Infrequent descriptions of battlegrounds. 2. Sasha calls the cooking pots witch’s cauldrons due to their size (p. 62, 67). 3. Cigarette (p. 95, 146). 4. “Windy” Rutskov often has indigestion.