I was born in 1938 in Saratov, a city in central Russia that lies on the banks of the great river Volga. It is a typical Russian town, old, beautiful, rather provincial, green, and cozy. It has a University, a few theatres, a conservatory, and a wonderful museum. In summer it is very hot and dry there. In winter there is fierce frost and masses of snow. War entered my life early, devastating this peaceful little town. The Nazis bombarded the streets at night, and my mother, grandmother, or aunt often carried me into the underground shelter as the sirens wailed, warning of the attack. I still remember the sound of those sirens. I was young and did not understand why we had to go into deep, specially excavated pits at night.
In the morning my friends and I would return to our games. We played “lopte,” the Russian version of baseball, or “Cossacks and robbers,” or went through the streets collecting shrapnel from the bombs. To us, the heavy, gleaming pieces of metal were beautiful. We didn’t really comprehend their terrible origin-the deadly power that produced these shiny treasures-until a boy on one of these hunts found a special treasure that flashed and exploded in his hands, leaving him crippled for the rest of his life.
I think that this incident, and the terrible postwar images of German prisoners of war digging roadside ditches and simple Russian peasants returning home without arms, without legs, all this, made a deep impression on me as a child. But my conscious rejection of war and violence came later, a result not only of small personal experiences, but of my reading of the works of Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky, Remarque and Hemingway. I have created this book because it seems to me that if children can understand the senselessness of war, if they can see how easily one can be sucked into a cycle of violence, they may become a force for peace in the future. I also hope that adults who share the book with children will reexamine their own thoughts on the futility of war.