Set against the backdrop of Stalinism and then the collapse of the USSR, Kolia is a luminous and unforgettable story about a boy born in a Siberian Gulag and his eventual freedom and life as a clown in the Moscow circus in the 1960s.
Kolia’s life begins in a labour camp in eastern Siberia in 1937. Iosif, a prisoner originally from Western Europe, teaches him the basic knowledge for survival in the harsh environment of the Gulag, but he also teaches him calculus, Russian, and French, before disappearing like most people who have lived in the open-air prison.
After Stalin’s death, Kolia is released and he’s thrown into Soviet society. He joins a circus in Moscow, where he finds the comfort of a family and is successful until the collapse of the USSR. But the memory of Iosif and the Gulag haunt him all his life.
Kolia is a moving and deeply human novel that beautifully illustrates the resilience of the human spirit.
Perrine Leblanc was born in Montreal in 1980. Her first novel – published under the title L’homme blanc in Quebec and Kolia in France – won the Governor General’s Literary Award for French Fiction, Quebec’s Canada Reads competition, and the Grand prix du livre de Montréal. It was also longlisted for Elle magazine’s Grand prix. Her second novel, Malabourg, was a finalist for the french literary Françoise-Sagan Prize in 2014. The english translation by Lazer Lederhendler, The Lake, was shortlisted for a Governor General’s Literary Award for Translation in 2015. She lives in Montreal.
David Scott Hamilton is a literary translator. His translation of Nelly Arcan's final novel, Paradis, clef en main (Exit, Anvil Press 2011) was a finalist for the Governor General's Literary Award and named a Globe and Mail Top 100 Book. He received his second GGLA nomination for his translation of Claudine Dumont's Anabiose (Captive, House of Anansi 2015). He lives in Montreal.
[Kolia] is cinematic in its succinct imagery and edits, capturing the most pertinent moments in the fewest details to tell a life story.
Kolia is a brilliant addition to the Canadian literary canon.
Works of literary fiction aren’t always page-turners, but Kolia definitely is. One gobbles it up, breathless to find out what happens next. Its cumulative power asserts itself only later, in aftershocks.
The novel is refreshingly devoid of the self-reflexive pitfalls of first books, and its clean, simple language is memorable without being ornate, accomplished without being showy. What more can you ask? It's a good book.
Kolia is a strong debut from a promising new literary voice.