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 Josef 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.
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.
[Kolia] is cinematic in its succinct imagery and edits, capturing the most pertinent moments in the fewest details to tell a life story.
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.
Kolia is a brilliant addition to the Canadian literary canon.