A timely and deeply moving memoir of a Ukrainian family and the country’s tumultuous history.
In the Ukrainian city of Poltava stands an elegant mansion known as the Rooster House, thanks to the two voluptuous red roosters flanking the door. It doesn't look horrifying, and yet, when Victoria was a girl growing up in the 1980s, her great-grandmother would take pains to avoid walking past it, because the Rooster House was home to the secret police.
Victoria grew up in Ukraine, moved abroad to the United States, then on to Europe. But in 2014, when Russian annexed Crimea and the landmarks of her personal geography—Kyiv, Kharkiv, Donetsk, Mariupol—were plunged into violence and tumult, she felt she had to go back. She had to visit her aging grandmother, and at the same time, she became obsessed with unraveling a family mystery spanning several generations, sparked by a line in her great-grandfather’s diary: “Brother Nikodim, vanished in the 1930s fighting for a free Ukraine.” It was an investigation that could only lead one place: to the Rooster House.
Inspired by the author's love for her family, and peopled by warm, larger-than-life characters who jostle alongside the ghostly absences of others, The Rooster House is at once a riveting journey into the complex history of a wounded country and a profoundly moving tribute to hope and the refusal of despair.
“[An] absorbing memoir. . . the Ukrainian-born journalist Victoria Belim returns to her homeland to find the missing pieces in the puzzle of her family’s history. . . Reading her book, it’s impossible to forget that however resilient the country may be, the pain currently inflicted will be felt for generations.”
—The New York Times Book Review
“The Rooster House is so many things at once, and all of them pull at my heart. The book is a seriously beautiful evocation of an imperiled nation and an account of a personal quest to retrieve the memories and secrets that families and states maintain. It’s a careful meditation on exile, on return and belonging, and what it means to be. And most of all it’s a paean to hope and home, written with such gentleness and deep adherence to emotional truth that to me its words become a fierceness to cast against harm, hardship and hurt. I loved it and it will haunt me for a long time.”Helen Macdonald, author of H is for Hawk and Vesper Flights
“[A] poignant, gently unfolding . . . elegant family narrative of myriad characters traumatized by the deep-seated Russia-Ukrainian struggle. . . Throughout this powerful text, readers will encounter numerous satisfying layers.”Kirkus, *starred review*
“Victoria Belim’s poignant memoir, unveils the Ukrainian roots of a family mystery. . . Belim’s book, and her work with Ukrainian refugees in Brussels, honors Ukraine’s vibrant culture and the resilience of its people. . . The Rooster House is an intimate, down-to-earth memoir that reveals the corrosive effects of secrets and the healing power of truth.”Foreword Reviews, *starred* review
"A moving personal journey unravelling complex family relationships, secrets and memories. Belim takes us into the homes of rural Ukrainians, illuminating their hopes, fears, struggles and traditions. Her love of the country and its people stands out in her sensitive depiction of their stoicism, hospitality and bonds... This is an honest, insightful and passionate book, that provides a beautiful insight into a nation beyond war headlines."
"Ethereal and transporting ... Ukraine comes alive through a tapestry of multisensory descriptions. Barbed by pain, this is a book as poignant as it is timely ... it reflects the indestructible strength of the Ukrainian people, who so fiercely hold on to hope."
—Times Literary Supplement (UK)
"A powerful memoir... tells the story of Ukraine through the lens of her own family, from WWII occupation to Chernobyl - to the trauma of today."
"A haunting quest—beautifully told, with stunning momentum—traveling through place, history, and private memory on the fraying edge of Europe. I loved this book: the voice, the determination, the pace, the characters, the insights into exile and belonging, into remembering and forgetting. A book where the search for truth shines so brightly, The Rooster House feels like an instant classic: an essential book in these darkening times."
—Sophy Roberts, author of The Lost Pianos of Siberia