Published: December 2005 by Harcourt,Inc.
Genre: Personal Memoirs
Subject: Orphanages and Diseases - Musculoskeletal
Transalated from the Russian by Marian Schwartz
Often, when I don't have a lot of time to read, I will listen to BBC's Radio 4's "Book of the Week". They cover various genres: Non-fiction, memoirs, autobiography, travelogs, humor and history in abridged 15 min segments which run from Monday to Friday. If I like the abridged version well enough I will go on to read the book in its entirety. Ruben Gallego's memoirs, "White on Black" was one such book.
This is an extraordinary personal testament, the story of one boy's triumph in the face of impossible obstacles. Born with cerebral palsy in Moscow, Ruben Gallego was hidden away in Soviet state institutions by his maternal grandfather, the secretary general of the Spanish Communist Party in the 1960s. Ruben's mother was told the boy was dead. His was a boyhood spent in orphanages, hospitals, and old-age homes, a life of emotional deprivation and loss of human dignity. And yet, there is no self-pity here, no bitterness, only an unfailing regard for the truth. Gallego's story is one of neglect and mistreatment but also of shared small pleasures, of courage, of the power of the human will, and of a child's growing fascination with books and the worlds he finds in them. Winner of the 2003 Russian Booker Prize, White on Black is "one of those rare books one can call revolutionary" (Corriere della Sera, Italy).
Why I liked it:
This could have been a heart-wrenching, gut-tearing story but the author eschews sentimentality - infact, this book is strangely cheerful in many parts. The author explains why in the preface:
"I'm convinced that life and literature have more than enough of the dark side,. That's not what I want. I write about goodness, triumph, joy, and love. ... Each one of my stories is a story of triumph."
He tells his story of moving from one Russian orphanage to another in little vignettes, moving back and forth in time. The sequence may seem a little choppy at times but overall it gives the readers wonderful insights into the Russian children's homes of the '70's where disabilities and handicaps were looked down upon with disdain and loathing rather than with understanding.
Interesting author fact:
Gallego was saved from this fate by a woman whose name has remained a mystery. The author does not reveal her identity in his book or in his many press interviews. After leaving the "old folks" home he attended college, married twice and has two daughters. In 2000, he was reunited with his mother in Prague (again, no one knows the circumstances of their reunion) and now lives in Freiburg, Germany. Today Gallego's health is shaky; however, he says he has no desire to visit Russia, even if his health permitted it.