Younger readers may not remember this time too well, but older readers will understand very well when I talk about a time of “Soviet children’s literature” – a time from the 60s to perhaps the mid-eighties when a lot of the children’s fiction we got in this country came out from under the Iron curtain. Ofcourse some of it was in the realm of the ‘nation-building’ genre and focused on building-children-to-be-good-citizens rather than great writing or entertainment. But some of those authors were very good and enjoyable.
One of my earliest ‘favourite’ books was by one of these Soviet authors, Vladislav Krapivin. August, the Month of Winds, a book I still read secretly sometimes, is a wonderful warm book revolving around a group of boys, Gena the leader, Ilka the message runner, Yasha the crafty kid, Vladek the blind boy who wants to be a meteorologist. Krapivin doesn’t moralize though there are undertones of good examples lurking around occasionally. Each character is interesting on his own account, and there is a good feeling for the things that matter in little boys lives – gang fights, kite flying, evading the teacher, the fantasies of running away to Africa, the intricacies of friendship – closeness that is never discussed.
Its also interesting how he presents the childrens’ world as a kind of counterpoint to the serious, focused adult world which dictates that learning a second language is a far superior activity to flying kites and shooting catapults. Gena’s granny scolds him for neglecting his German.
“Didn’t Father tell him, the young devil, not to laze about, to be a man. But he won’t, the shameless good-for-nothing!”
But it wasn’t that he wouldn’t, he couldn’t! He just hadn’t got what it takes. They didn’t teach you music, for instance, if you had no flair for it. But what if a person had no flair for German?
“Be a man.” Couldn’t one be a man without knowing German? And why “be”? Wasn’t he human already?
These monologues in Gena’s head are dispelled when he decides to stash the German book away behind the firewood and not worry until the exams, when he will be found out anyway. All problems can be endured until the time comes when you need a solution…
I doubt most of these books are in print today, and sometimes when I re-read them, they seem incredibly innocent for this age of advertising-fed and video-violence immune kids. For a long time I actually wanted to write to Krapivin to tell him how much I enjoyed the book, but couldnt find anything much online about him beyond this official page.