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Christened with Crosses


Author: Eduard Kochergin

Translators: Simon Patterson and Nina Chordas

The memoirs of an old man who, as a boy, learnt to find his way between extortionate state control and marauding banditry, the two poles that characterize Russia to this day. A story about the awakening of artistic talent under highly unusual Russian circumstances.

While the mothers in Siberia wait for their soldier sons to return from the war in the west in 1945, the eight year old Eduard secretly jumps on board the trains heading in the opposite direction, heading west, towards Leningrad. Placed in a Siberian orphanage as a child because his parents were arrested as public enemies, there is only one thing he wants: to go back home to Leningrad and to find his mother again. It is not only his desperate courage and his youthful agility that ensure his survival, it is also his artistic talent. With his agile fingers the boy is able to bend wire in the shape of profiles of Lenin and Stalin, as if in silhouette. He uses them to cheer up the invalid war veterans on the train stations returning from the front, who then give him a piece of bread, a bowl of soup and who, in a spirit of comradeship, warn him of the railway police and the secret service henchmen wanting to send the runaway back to the orphanage.

Eduard spends more than six years on the run, experiencing close encounters with post-war Russia where life and fate have become synonyms. He encounters other stowaways, professional beggars, soldiers returning from the war and wartime profiteers, the mothers of soldiers and war invalids, Chinese from the Ural, Cossacks dealing in hashish, Bashkir Estonians, Russian penal colony escapees and, time and again, orphanage directors. In order to survive the winter he often registered himself voluntarily in the next orphanage, each one always a little closer to the West, running away again before the servants of the Stalinist state are able to send him back to Siberia.

The memoirs of an old man who, as a boy, learnt to find his way between extortionate state control and marauding banditry, the two poles that characterize Russia to this day. A story about the awakening of artistic talent under highly unusual Russian circumstances.

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Born in 1937, at the height of Stalin’s repression, Eduard Kochergin was separated from his parents as a small child when they were arrested under false charges of being foreign spies. Sent to Siberia to an orphanage for children of “public enemies”, some time later he managed to escape, though it took him six years to reach St. Petersburg. Upon his return to his native city, as if by a miracle, he found his mother, who had spent ten years in prison. Kochergin had survived his journey only because he had picked up some skills as a tattoo artist, and because he was also able to bend wire into the shape of Soviet leaders’ profiles. It was only later, after studying at the academy of arts, that he was able to turn his talent for art into his profession. Kochergin went on to become an internationally acclaimed stage and set designer and is currently the head of stage design at the Tovstonogov Bolshoi Drama Theatre in St. Petersburg.

Listen to the BBC coverage with Eduard Kochergin


National Bestseller Award 2010


Endorsements and Review Quotes

“As in Solzhenitsyn’s famous accounts of Gulag life, “The Gulag Archipelago,” there is a matter-of-fact acceptance of brutal conditions, leavened by moments of humor and compassion. Despite the horrors he sees, Kochergin retains his humanity in a world which tyranny and war have rendered almost uninhabitable.” RUSSIA BEYOUND THE HEADLINES

“A powerful memoir of one man’s journey to adulthood in a Soviet world that could have stepped out of a Dickens novel but 100 years on.” Stuart Allen, Winstonsdad’s Blog

“Academician Eduard Kochergin, a titled master, who has created legendary performances together with theatrical producers on the stages of the leading Russian and foreign theatres, has an equally good command of the word and of the brush. A veteran of modern culture and art, who was the artistic director of the Bolshoi Drama Theatre in St. Petersburg for a long time, has written memoirs of his difficult childhood. It is a very powerful document from a historical standpoint. It is the absolute truth written by a talented and wise man who has lived a long life.” ANDREY GELASIMOV, famous Russian writer for Voice of Russia Radio

“These days quite frequent are attempts to rehabilitate Generalissimo Stalin and his Soviet state internal politics. That, while many victims of his repressions have not yet been cleared of bogus accusations. Articles in Stalin’s favor are being disseminated on the Internet and through traditional publishers. On their backdrop a devoid of theatrics story of a young boy, a victim of Stalin’s political machine, is nothing less than an act of civil courage. This courage and truth are the two aces that made Eduard Kochergin’s literary presence possible.” ELENA SAFRONOVA, ZNAMYA MAGAZINE

“This is not a misery memoir, just an honest, admirable, enthralling story.” HISTORICAL NOVEL SOCIETY

“An interesting story of a life that so many must have lived at that time. So many families were torn apart by communism and the struggle of the littlest ones trying to find their way back home to someone who loves them is a heart-rending read.”

“Those more familiar with dyspotian novels will be surprised how familiar this story seems, whilst readers of travel logs will be interested by the variety of places mentioned. Anyone who enjoys stories about individuals and human interactions will find much to fascinate. I truly recommend this book and hope any who try it will enjoy it as much as I have.”

“I don’t want to give to many secrets away from Christened with Crosses because you really need to read it yourself to appreciate the story. I found it made me look back and rethink some of the things in my life that I complain about and realize perhaps they really are not that bad.”

“There are probably not many people in the world who would have been able to make that same journey and thrive the way that he was able to thrive. It was truly amazing.”

“Ultimately if you are looking for an adventure book, are interested in the Soviet Union, have never tried translated literature and want to try it out, or quite simply are looking for a great read then this is the book for you.”

“Definitely a story about the awakening of his artistic talent. A book full of intrigue and adventure.”

“Definitely a story about the awakening of his artistic talent. A book full of intrigue and adventure. At times I laughed and at times I cried with sadness and joy this book is a must read!”

EDUARD KOCHERGIN’S Interview for BBC Radio/A Six Year Journey Home

EYES IN magazine

Readers on Amazon say:

Benjamin (Top 1000 reviewer): “Although initially a little uninspiring (more about that below), one is soon drawn in, and it proves to be a fascinating and at times very moving account, and reveals a very resourceful, creative and determined boy as Stepanych lives on his wits through the summer months and then come the autumn hands himself over to the authorities to spend the cold winters in the local orphanage, ready to escape the following spring and repeat the process many times. Once on his travels he survives on his resources, earning his daily rations trough his artistic talents, or by working for others including spell conscripted by a band of train burglars. along the way he makes some friends, experiences moments of happiness but also faces tragedies…”

Seeker: “I found this book by accident. This is a story of a Russian-Polish boy born in 1937, who’s parents were arrested as spies before WWII. He was sent to the orphanage, which looked like a prison, but he managed to escape. Eduard Kochergin, the author, tells how he lived the life of a homeless but courageous and inventive kid, who had the big goal–to come back home.
Touching and inspiring.”

Readers on Goodreads.com say

Kelly Knapp: “Occasionally, there are those rare books that deserve a better rating system than 5 stars allows. That is because those novels are awesome and mind blowing. This book is one of those.”

Ira Therebel: “An absolutely outstanding book. Eduard Kochergin tells us about his tough childhood when he escapes the orphanage in Siberia to return to Leningrad to find his mother that was arrested as a spy. He wrote this book in a very simple, story telling tone. Really like someone who is just telling you a story. I think this is one of the reasons why it is so easy to imagine what was happening to him, even though it is hard to see a child going through such a life.”

Reagan Kendera: “This was an inspirational book, such a brave and moving story. It’s so easy to forget about other groups of people affected by WWII and that’s what makes memoirs like this so incredible.”

Readers on LibraryThing.com say

Wungu: “This short book charmed me from the first page – even though the background to the author’s experiences was anything but charming. However, shining through the writing were the beacons of hope which he had kept lit ahead of him on his journey; such that even if he had to take a step back into the system or to take a detour to avoid more persecution he never gave up on his goal and dream…”

Sneuper: “These memoirs are adventurous and moving at the same time, shining the light on a period of time and people in that time that are not often written about. In it are pictures of those people: the homecoming of wounded soldiers, the craftsmen in small Siberian villages, the people on trains. Well written and a pleasure to read.”
IamAleem: “’Christened With Crosses’ is an excellent memoir retelling the story of Eduard’s youth. Spanning WW2 Eastern Europe and Russia this resilient tale covers his difficult journey back home from an orphanage in Siberia.”

Helen Baker: “This is an easy read but I felt it lacked emotion. Maybe some of this was lost in translation. However it paints a frightening picture of a bleak society, far from anything I have experienced, which nonetheless moulded a strong and resilient man.”

Torontoc: “The story is fastastic as it seems unlikely that a small boy could navigate the trains of such a huge country and survive. A fascinating book!”


Eduard Kochergin


222 pages

Publication date

25th July 2012

Book Format

Hardcover, Paperback, EPUB, Kindle, PDF

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Glagoslav Publications