A RADIO 4 BOOK OF THE WEEK
‘Wild Swans for Ukraine … rich and magnificent’ Bookseller
‘A paean to hope and home. I loved it and it will haunt me’
‘Marvellously vivid and often heartbreaking… I read it in a single enthralled sitting’
‘An instant classic: an essential book in these darkening times’
‘Compelling, beautifully written… an insight into the complexity of Ukraine’s history’
In the Ukrainian city of Poltava stands a building known as the Rooster House, an elegant mansion with two voluptuous red roosters flanking the door. It doesn’t look horrifying. And yet, when Victoria was a girl growing up in the 1980s, her great-grandmother would take pains to avoid walking past it.
In 2014, while the Russian state was annexing Crimea, Victoria visited her grandmother in Bereh, the hamlet near Poltava that was a haven in her childhood. Just before the trip she came across her great-grandfather’s diary, one page scored deep with the single line: ‘Brother Nikodim, vanished in the 1930s fighting for a free Ukraine.’ She had never heard of this uncle and no one – especially her grandmother – seemed willing to tell her about him.
Victoria became obsessed with recovering his story, and returned to her birth country again and again in pursuit of it. In the end, after years of sifting through Ukraine’s post-Soviet bureaucracy, after travelling to tiny, ruined villages and speaking to the wizened survivors of that era, her winding search took her back to the place she had always known it would – to the Rooster House, and the dark truths contained in its basement.
Inspired by the author’s love for her family, and peopled by warm, larger-than-life characters who jostle alongside the ghostly absences of others, The Rooster House is at once a riveting journey into the complex history of a wounded country and a profoundly moving tribute to hope and the refusal of despair.