(soon to be in pre-pub in late-October)
From Kirkus Reviews
A brutal and thorough exploration of St. Petersburg in the 1990s, seen through the eyes of three young children.
Three young siblings fervently cling to the hope of being reunited as they navigate the unforgiving reality of St. Petersburg in the 1990s in Brown’s novel.
In early 1990s, the sudden unraveling of the Soviet Union has left St. Petersburg in tatters. The wealthy continue to profit while the poor continue their descent into starvation, alcoholism, and drug abuse. Against a backdrop of death, economic upheaval, and rising crime, the novel’s protagonists emerge: 12-year-old Fedya, 9-year-old Elena, and 4-year-old Irina are orphaned siblings scrambling to survive. Fedya runs with a gang of pickpockets and thieves to keep his sisters alive; Elena watches over Irina. Soon after the fiercely resilient children are introduced to the reader, they are ripped apart from one another; Fedya is taken in by the mafia, Elena is sent to an orphanage, and Irina is quickly adopted and sent to America. Though thousands of miles away from one another and fighting for their lives in more ways than one, Fedya, Elena, and Irina swear to themselves and each other that they will be united once more, hopefully in a kinder, more just world than the one they know now. This realistic drama is cruel, unforgiving, and indelicate; Brown writes uncomplicated prose that expertly exemplifies the cold brutality of life for those living in St. Petersburg during the era depicted here. The protagonists are treated with an intriguing blend of insight and superficiality as the author directs the reader to focus not on the unique nature of each character but on the cutthroat means of survival that define the children’s lives (“You’re almost ten! How long have we been on the street, and still you don’t know the rules? Maybe I should drop you both off at the police station and be done with you”). Avid readers of historical fiction will appreciate Brown’s unflinching exploration of Russia in turmoil and her sympathy for those experiencing it.--Kirkus ReviewsAccolade: GET IT!
From BookLife Reviews (a subsidiary of Publishers' Weekly)
Brown (Sister Jane) spotlights the cruel fate of orphaned children in 1990s post-Soviet St. Petersburg in this heartrending saga, the first of the Lebedev Orphan series. When the Lebedev siblings—Fedya, Elena, and Irina—are left to fend for themselves after their mother's tragic death in St. Petersburg, 12-year-old Fedya shoulders the immense responsibility of providing for his two younger sisters amidst their dismal surroundings and extreme poverty. However, as winter approaches and his efforts are failing, Fedya makes the painful decision to entrust his sisters to the politsiya, hoping they will receive better care from the agency’s social workers. That harrowing choice sets off a chain of events that separate the three siblings and drastically alter their life paths.
Fedya soon finds himself in the company of a gang of petty thieves, struggling to make ends meet, while Elena and Irina are placed in separate orphanages, each facing their own daunting challenges. The echoes of their mother's dying words, "Stay together, Fedya. You must do everything you can to stay together," serve as a constant motivation for Fedya, propelling him to relentlessly search for their mother's brother, Uldis—who Fedya believes is his only hope of helping him reunite with his sisters. Conversely, in the orphanage, nine-year-old Elena is bullied by the other girls and discovers solace in the compassionate social worker Valentina Alexandrovna.
Brown’s personal connection to Russia—her adopted daughter grew up in St. Petersburg—grants her a unique perspective to capture the lives of the Lebedev siblings. What truly distinguishes Brown's narrative is her intricate portrayal of each sibling's voice—Fedya and Elena’s grave undertones are fitting, given their age and circumstances, while Irina, just four years old, is gifted with a more playful approach. Thankfully, the siblings’ journey ends on a hopeful note, and readers will be left wanting to know more of their story.
Takeaway: Heartrending story of orphaned siblings fighting to stay together in post-Soviet Russia.
Comparable Titles: Teri M. Brown’s Sunflowers Beneath the Snow, Kristina Gorcheva-Newberry’s The Orchard.
Design and typography: A
Marketing copy: A
Special thanks to Matt McAvoy Book Reviews for a great review, 9/18/2023.
"It isn’t often I throw superlatives around, but I think it is fair to describe this book as something of an epic – and it is very, very good. Nor is it common for me to be crying out for a sequel, but having reached the end of this, I would love to see one, to see characters reunited. I’ll try not to spoil anything; suffice to say that the premise concerns three young, orphaned siblings, although beyond a certain point the readers only get to follow two of them. The end is left perfectly poised for the third to come back into the narrative, and I for one would love to see it.
This book is superb and Irmgarde Brown is an excellent author." ... Read more here. ... "Children in the City of Czars is exceptionally well written – wordy, but didn’t feel long – and I was totally gripped, from start to finish. It’s fair to say that this is probably the best fiction book I’ve read in a little while, and if you like dark, progressively simmering suspense thrillers, with a heavy focus on geo-politics and life in a crumbling Soviet Union, I very strongly recommend it. And, in case Irmgarde isn’t considering it (which I’m sure she is), I would love to catch up with Irina."
From Francine Markowitz, Ph.D., Professor Emerita, Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Ben-Gurion University
Author of Coming of Age in Post-Soviet Russia.
Irmgarde Brown’s Children in the City of Czars brings readers into the turbulent lives of three orphaned siblings in the barely navigable, cynically cruel world of 1990s St. Petersburg following the unexpectedly disruptive break-up of the Soviet Union.
This (Y.A.) novel is not for the faint-hearted; nor is it for readers seeking heroes and heroines who find freedom, fortune and kindness by capitalizing on new educational, artistic and business opportunities in post-Soviet Russia. Instead, through her well-drawn characters, Brown shows how abandoned children, if not picked up by the police and deposited into unhospitable, cold and overly crowded Children’s Homes, drift into street gangs, often becoming victims of the drug trade and sex-trafficking. Juxtaposing the hideous experiences of one sibling living on the streets with the other’s desperation in an orphanage, Children in the City of Czars tells two complex and moving tales that come together at the book’s end but without resolving the protagonists’ fates. Readers will want a sequel to this compelling story that offers deep insight into contemporary Russian children’s experiences of violent dislocation coupled with their desire for family and love.