A historical novel


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white ghosts baryakina

In 1922, white colonialists in China see themselves as an impregnable supreme race. But when thousands of devastated Russian refugees fleeing the Bolsheviks arrive in Shanghai, the propriety of racism comes under threat.

A Russian journalist, Klim Rogov, finds himself with his back to the wall, rejected by both the whites and the Chinese. But even being one of the “fallen gods” who should be out of sight, he still tries to rise from ashes.


December, 1922

Shivering in her faded black coat and worn astrakhan hat, Nina Kupina paced the rusty low deck of the refugee steamer, cramming English verbs into her head:

“Come, came, come; see, saw, seen; win, won, won.”

For several weeks now, two thousand Russian souls had been killing time in the Shanghai harbor, trapped on their ships bearing the faded banners of a state that no longer existed—the Russian Empire. But the Shanghai authorities still had no idea what to do with them. The representatives of the Chinese part of the city, the French concession, and the International Settlement had expressed sympathy for the refugees who had fled the Bolsheviks after the brutal civil war in Russia, but no one wanted these homeless and penniless foreigners on their territory or on their hands.

Just to be on the safe side, they had sent a Chinese battleship to keep the refugees in their sights. It was a sensible precaution.

In the depths of their despair, the Russians might easily launch an attack on peaceful Shanghai. Their holds were brimming with arms: they had enough to start a small war.

Father Seraphim, a man built like a bear, with cannonballs for fists and a bushy beard, approached Nina.

“The parents’ committee wants to arrange a Christmas celebration for the kids,” he said. “Can you draw us a Christmas tree on the wall next to the mess hall? We have to arrange some semblance of normality for the children during the holiday.”

He gave Nina a piece of charcoal, and she went up to the crowded upper deck, lit by the weak winter sun.

The low, flat shores of the Huangpu River were powdered with snow. The roofs of the ancient watchtowers with their corners curved skywards were silhouetted like black paper cut-outs against the pink-grayish evening sky. All sorts of ships swarmed past the anchored refugee flotilla—swift moving junks with carved sterns and sails like dragons’ wings, soot-blackened coal barges, and white ocean-going liners.

Shanghai was so near yet so far. Everybody had the right to go ashore, it seemed, except the Russians.

The men on board, for the most part former White Army officers and soldiers, were grinding rice delivered by Shanghai charities, using improvised homemade hand grinders. Their wives and daughters were doing their laundry.

Drying shirts and pants, draped over the ship’s gun barrels, flapped in the icy wind. From the stern came the sound of keening: a woman had died of pneumonia and her friends were preparing her for burial.

Nina found an area on the wall where the paint was not peeling and began to draw. Suddenly she heard the voice of her husband, Klim Rogov, floating from the opened porthole.

Nina hesitated for a moment but couldn’t resist the temptation to eavesdrop.

Klim enjoyed great authority among the refugees as he had spent some time in Shanghai when he was younger. In the evenings, he invited people to the mess hall and imparted his knowledge to them. Nina had pretended not to be interested in these meetings. When you’ve sent your husband packing, it’s awkward to rely on him for priceless information concerning your future.

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Book 1

A novel about the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917

white ghosts baryakina

Book 2

A novel about Shanghai in the turbulent 1920s

the prince of the soviets baryakina

Book 3

A novel about foreign journalists in the USSR


Text by Elvira Baryakina

Translation by Simon Geoghegan and Elvira Baryakina

Book cover art by Olga Tereschenko

Book cover design by Alex Mintz

Website design by Taras Karpyak