Aleksandr Kontorovich, writer:
Very often, the author is usually asked – “How was the idea of your book born, and what did you mean by this?” This usually happens after the book has been published, and numerous critics have managed to tear its plot to shreds, coming up with their own explanation for each of them.
It’s like saying: the author wanted to say this…
“No,” says another critic. “You’re wrong, he meant something else!”
And when all the debaters have already tired each other out – then, finally, they remember about the author himself – and turn to him for explanations.
Sometimes, in the process, it suddenly turns out that all the debaters were wrong – and no one understood the main idea of the book at all.
To facilitate the future work of critics, we will try to explain some key points.
This book is not a spy thriller.
And not “about the war”.
Although both are present here.
The book contains descriptions of military operations and examples of the work of intelligence agencies. But that’s not what we wrote about…
All of the above is nothing more than a background. Where the main events unfold. And the heroes of the book are not the military and intelligence officers. They are important, but not the most important characters.
The real heroes of the book are children. Ordinary, not outstanding among their peers. Not prodigies and not particularly gifted – simple boys and girls.
And their companions are all well-known cats. Not quite ordinary, yes… but the fact is that it is children who are sometimes able to see in well-known things their true purpose. See – and accept. Without finding out the reasons, the circumstances of the appearance here and now, and much more – just accept it as it is.
Accept – and make friends with the unknown. Don’t try to bend them to your will, as adults usually do, dissect and study… just accept this friendship. It is quite enough for them that a loyal friend is standing next to them. A friend who will not betray or abandon, will not hesitate to give up their life for the fact that children’s laughter still sounds over the earth.
And it is in difficult circumstances that this manifests itself most strongly. It is at this time that children, more than anyone else, need help and support. And adults … they are busy with their own, undoubtedly important and necessary, business.
But, their own all the same.
And they can not always have time to warn children from some dangers and missteps.
Sometimes – very dangerous missteps…
Such circumstances have always been wars and all sorts of conflicts. It is not so important where this war is going – in ancient Russia, in the powder-smelling Caucasus of the 18th century, or in modern Donetsk – it falls on children everywhere. And the old companions of the military – unusual cats – gradually began to understand that not only brave and brave warriors need their friendship and help – there are others… Those who, due to lack of strength and life experience, are simply not yet able to protect themselves on their own.
And the cats made their choice.
It was also made by the opposite side – those who from ancient times sowed discord and enmity between people.
Everyone chose their side – and stood next to those they wanted to help.
Some risked their lives to save their pupils.
Others, hiding in the darkness, continued to deceive the easily obnoxious people. To fool – and turn into an obedient tool for the fulfilment of their desires.
This war between good and evil didn’t start yesterday… and it won’t end today.
But we can help the good by taking a closer look at what is around us.
Look closely – and understand… Understand the difference between empty words in a beautiful package. Between the not always pleasant truth.
Between fiction and reality.
Between white and black…
Faina Savenkova, playwright, writer:
This is probably the most difficult work in my life. For me, the main difficulty was a sense of responsibility, because our novel with Aleksandr Kontorovich is not just a fantasy about cats and children. This is a story about my native Donbass, albeit a little fantasy. The story is about the struggle between good and evil, when it is difficult to understand what this good or evil looks like, and whether they are different from each other. A world turned upside down, like in the fairy tales of Lewis Carroll. Only it was more real than we thought. In part, “Barsiks” [creatures with the soul of dead warriors – ed] talk about this. And, of course, about the struggle for children and their souls. So maybe our book will help some of the guys to stay with “Barsiks”, if they get a little confused.
Egor Kholmogorov, member of the Russian Writers’ Union:
Bless the cats and the children.
One of the most poignant themes in any story art, almost on the verge of being forbidden, is children at war. The teardrop of a child works flawlessly and heartbreakingly, so you need to use it with the greatest care, so as not to fake it. But this is when we talk about literature “about children”, about books that are written by well-fed uncles and aunts in the quiet of their offices far from the war.
But sometimes, it turns out, there is also other literature. The kind that children create, children at war. It was also an almost forbidden technique — a little teardrop started to speak itself. And it was not a tear, but a sharp, almost merciless blade.
This is exactly what happens with the work of Faina Savenkova. A little girl, older than my nine-year-old son, but younger than my fifteen-year-old daughters, who lives practically on the front line, in the city of Lugansk, in Donbass.
In this tattered Russian land, words about the “teardrop of a child” sound quite specific. As of October 2018, UNICEF counted 149 dead Donbass children, and since then, more have been added. The wounded, the frightened, the traumatised, the starving – almost do not count. Faina lives in a world where being a child and living on the side of those whom the Ukrainian authorities in Kiev have recorded as a “separatist” means walking on the verge of death.
Thanks to the stories and novels of Faina Savenkova, we can look into the world of these children. And not all sentimental critics will like what’s inside. There is no sentimentality, no romance, and no nurturing of one’s own pain. There is a somewhat adolescent harshness, somewhat pre-adult world, consisting of dangers surrounding from all sides — tripwire mines, shelling, enemy intelligence agencies recruiting gullible children.
This is somewhat similar to the violent and threatening world of Arkady Gaidar in “The Fate of the Drummer” and “Military Secret”. Everywhere there are enemies, spies, treason, and the children of this conflict will not escape. But only Gaidar’s world is still two-thirds fictional, here everything is real. A real destroyed airport, real houses damaged by shells, real mines, real foreign intelligence agencies, imbued with real otherworldly hatred.
And the only way to somehow get used to this diamond-cutting world is not sentimental prose, but an epic, a legend, a fairy tale, in which the struggle is not with prosaic zealots of the “inviolability of the state cordons”, but with magical enemies. Because the main thing that a child needs, both in peace and in war is a friend and a defender, both real and imaginary.
No matter how many imaginary friends the world children’s literature has created, they always touch the heart. And now the cat defenders of Faina Savenkova joined this row. They are not too fabulous, just as the dangerous world of Faina is not too fabulous – they do not talk and do not want to wear boots. But they protect both from human malice and from metaphysical enemies – “sovils”.
It is also not difficult to recognise this enemy. After all, in Donbass, there is indeed not only a national liberation, but also a mystical war. A war between Russian Orthodox civilisation and occult evil. The brave young men from the “Azov” battalion love to sieg heil and use everywhere the runes beloved by SS men, which they call “sieg”, but in fact they are called “sov”. This poison-soaked darkness is opposed by brave, intelligent cats. They protect children from this evil.
Faina Savenkova and Aleksandr Kontorovich managed to create an amazing inter-genre – Slavic fantasy is combined with a historical novel about the Caucasian war, with a story about the Great Patriotic War, and it seems to be with fiction about the near future, Donetsk-2025, which is too close to today. Each literary tradition is good in itself, it is extremely difficult to mix them, but the authors did it, precisely due to the absolute authenticity of the basic Donetsk text.
The book pulsates from combat fantasy to children’s story and back again, they are intricately intertwined in their completely unsentimental morality. In this war, everything is real, there is death and hell on all sides, here they can kill, including a child, and a mythical reconciliation of all with all is hardly possible. Therefore, the most important thing is to be for your own people, to believe in your own people, not to get lost and not to be late.
Such harsh books are written, with talented co-authorship of adults, by our children. Will their favourite cats become furry purring toys again, will their dream of real, non-fairy-tale defenders come true? It depends on us and you.
Marinella Mondaini, writer, journalist:
Before the reader is an amazing book.
Its name, cover image, and, of course, its unusual content make an impression. The title conveys the essence of the work, and the real photo, placed on the cover, attractively reveals this title, but not immediately, but gradually, as you read. The title of the novel suggests biblical reminiscences: “behind one shoulder of a man is a devil, behind the other – an angel. Think about who to listen to.”
If you turn to mythology and ancient legends, there is someone behind every person, it can be good, light forces, or it can be evil, dark forces. And indeed, a person, during their life, is constantly faced with a choice between Evil and Good, everything rests on a moral choice.
According to an extensive literature, from early philosophers to modern authors, Good and Evil are the two primordial principles that govern human life. They are in constant struggle with each other, but what from time immemorial causes fear and torment in man is the riddle of evil. Religions, philosophy, and theology were the first to study the sources and nature of evil, but in its broad sense, this “mystery” has become “familiar”, since people’s lives are rich in sad experiences of encountering evil.
The theme of “Evil and Good” is a leitmotif throughout the novel. In it, the dark forces are represented by semi-mythical creatures – “Sovils”. Sovils inhabit the legends and traditions of the Anglo-Saxon world and this reference is very important for understanding the deep meaning of this novel, which, although it is a “fantasy”, is based on the real reality of the modern world. Therefore, it is not possible to describe the genre of this multi-faceted work in one word: it is both “fantasy”, “historical”and “real”. This can be seen in a kind of artistic construction, which develops on the principle of counterpoint – the superimposition of one storyline on another.
The novel covers several historical periods: Ancient Russia, the 18th Century (Russian-Turkish War), 1942, the modern war in Donbass, the LPR 2016 and the future – Donetsk 2025. The events are distributed in separate parts, but the successive change of one, as if independent, part to another creates a complete plot development.
There are many characters in the novel, but the cats – the embodiment of Good – are particularly positive characters. If the sinister forces of “Sovils” subordinate people to their will to achieve their goals, then, on the contrary, cats are magical assistants of a person, able not only to protect, but also to exert a magical influence on people’s fate. Therefore, they are “unusual” and “big”, they are “Barsiks” and are extremely attached to children. Sometimes, sacrificing their lives, cats save children, which means that only Good can save the world. In this regard, I think the phrase “laboratory for breeding cats” is a better metaphor. It is handled by a wise, kind old man, but the followers of “Sovils” try to eliminate him and the laboratory in any way.
It is encouraging to know that this activity will be passed on and continued by children, so that the “production of good” goes on continuously … from generation to generation. That will give the opportunity to fight Evil.
This is especially important to believe today, when the system of values is flattened and the world is engulfed in various kinds of wars and a spiral of violence. The war in Donbass clearly shows the essence of the problem. In the novel, the forces of Evil sent their pupils to this wounded land. “Sovils”, who have holed themselves in Europe, have created a semi-secret organisation “Order”, which stands on the side of the globalists and aims to destroy the “Barsiks” and those who help them. At the head of the Order is symbolically placed Monsignor Caparelli, who directs everything from his “Villa” in Rome. The “Villa” represents the power of the Order and it is no coincidence that it stands intact and undamaged for centuries: “it lived according to its own laws…as if it existed outside of time” and “nothing shook its calm”, neither the blackshirts of the fascist regime of Italy marched past, nor the horses from the Right Sector and other nationalist right-wing formations of Ukraine.
In the wounded land of Donbass, these forces have shown their true face, so the cats, as in the cover photo, help the defenders of their land to resist the “Sovils”.
Now Donbass will have to drink the bitter cup to the bottom.
This work is the fruit of the collaboration of two extraordinary authors. The young and talented writer Faina and the experienced, well-known writer Aleksandr Kontorovich perfectly managed to write an exciting novel that not only trains the imagination, but also makes the reader experience and think about what is happening around us today.
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