Theodore Odrach was born Theodore Sholomitsky in 1912 outside of Pinsk, Belarus. At the age of nine, he was arrested for a petty crime by the authorities. Without his parents’ knowledge, he was sent to a reform school in Vilnius, Lithuania (then under Polish rule). Released at the age of 18, he entered what is now Vilnius University, studying philosophy and ancient history. With the Soviet invasion in 1939, he fled Vilnius and returned to his native Pinsk, where he secured a job as headmaster of a village school. As with all teachers of the time, his main duties were to transform the school system into a Soviet one and usher in complete russification. Within a year, he fell under suspicion by the Soviet regime and became imprisoned on some trumped-up charge. He managed to escape and flee south to Ukraine (then under German occupation), where he edited underground war-time newspapers. Toward the end of the war, with the return of the Bolshevik regime, he fled over the Carpathian Mountains to the West. Traveling through Europe, in Germany he met and married Klara Nagorski. After living in England for five years, in 1953 he and his wife immigrated to Canada. It was in his home in Toronto that Odrach did most of his writing. He died of a stroke in 1964.
The 22 stories in this collection, set mostly in Eastern Europe during World War II, depict a world fraught with conflict and chaos. Theodore Odrach is witness to the horrors that surround him, and as both an investigative journalist and a storyteller, using humor and irony, he guides us through his remarkable narratives. His writing style is clean and spare, yet at the same time compelling and complex. There is no short supply of triumph and catastrophe, courage and cowardice, good and evil, as they impact the lives of ordinary people.
In “Benny’s Story,” a group of prisoners fight to survive despite horrific circumstances; in “Lickspittles,” the absurdity of an émigré writer’s life is highlighted; in “Blood,” a young man travels to a distant city in search of his lost love; in “Whistle Stop,” two German soldiers fight boredom in an out-of-the-way outpost, only to see their world crumble and fall.
First published in 1959 as Pivstanok Za Selom by Julian Serediak Press in Buenos Aires, Argentina, added to this collection are also stories found still in manuscript form. Eight pieces were previously published in literary magazines in Canada and the U.S. ◊