WHITE GHOSTS

A historical novel

Fleeing the civil war in Russia, journalist Klim Rogov arrives in semi-colonial Shanghai along with thousands of devastated Russian refugees. But their arrival is not welcomed by the expat community that believes the newcomers’ poverty and desperation will undermine the very idea of the white man’s impregnable superiority. And indeed, soon enough the Chinese population rise up against their racist colonial overlords.


As the Soviet Union, the Western powers, and local Chinese nationalists vie for dominance over China, Klim tries to achieve the impossible—to win back his life and affections of his stunning, estranged wife Nina.

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CHAPTER ONE. THE REFUGEES

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.

PLUNGE INTO THE EPOCH

Shanghai in the Roaring Twenties

Some call the city the ‘Splendor of the East’; others the ‘Whore of Asia’. Shanghai in the 1920s was a melting pot of different nations and cultures fused together by war and commerce.

The Great Powers exploit China for its cheap labor and reap the rewards of the booming opium trade. When a flotilla of ships carrying the remnants of the Russian White Army approaches Shanghai harbor, the fragile balance of this international marketplace is placed under threat.

Klim Rogov

a Russian journalist in exile

 

Shanghai society is structured in much the same way as the magical Mountain of Kunlun of Taoist legend.

At its summit dwell the supreme deities—the British, the French, the Americans and Italians. Just below them live the lesser immortals, white people from other respectable countries and Japan.

They all enjoy the paradise gardens, drinking their elixir of immortality, occasionally deigning to patronize the Chinese mortals.

Like all fallen gods, the Russian refugees are not even granted mortal status and certainly no forgiveness—their place is to dwell out of sight in a place of outer darkness, deep under the mountain.

OTHER BOOKS IN THE SERIES

Russian Treasures by Elvira Baryakina

Book 1

A novel about the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917

White Ghosts by Elvira Baryakina

Book 2

A novel about Shanghai in the turbulent 1920s

The Prince of the Soviets by Elvira Baryakina

Book 3

A novel about foreign journalists in the USSR

CONTRIBUTORS

Text by Elvira Baryakina

Translation by Simon Geoghegan and Elvira Baryakina

Book cover art by Olga Tereschenko

Book cover design by Tatiana Kotik

Website design by Taras Karpyak