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The Rooster House

ebook / ISBN-13: 9780349017310

Price: £10.99

ON SALE: 18th May 2023

Genre: Biography & True Stories / Memoirs

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Radio 4 Book of the Week

In the Ukrainian city of Poltava stands a building known as the Rooster House, an elegant mansion with 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.

In 2014, while the Russian state was annexing Crimea, Victoria visited her grandmother in Bereh, the hamlet near Poltava that was a haven in her childhood. Just before the trip she came across her great-grandfather’s diary, one page scored deep with the single line: ‘Brother Nikodim, vanished in the 1930s fighting for a free Ukraine.’ She had never heard of this uncle and no one – especially her grandmother – seemed willing to tell her about him.

Victoria became obsessed with recovering his story, and returned to her birth country again and again in pursuit of it. In the end, after years of sifting through Ukraine’s post-Soviet bureaucracy, after travelling to tiny, ruined villages and speaking to the wizened survivors of that era, her winding search took her back to the place she had always known it would – to the Rooster House, and the dark truths contained in its basement.

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.


A beautifully written evocation of the Ukrainian people through the prism of four generations of one family, but it is also a celebration of Ukrainian women... evokes a Ukraine beyond the rubble-strewn images we see on the television news... a truly redemptive book, strangely joyful even, one that makes the tragedy of the Russian invasion personal
New European
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, starred review
Emotionally shattering yet utterly unputdownable, Belim's search to find out what happened to her great-grandfather's brother in 1930s Ukraine is a haunting work of research and revelation
Sparkles with details of rural life and Soviet-inherited bureaucratic absurdity ... a moving account of a still much-misunderstood country, given extra poignancy by the disaster now unfolding
New Statesman
Ukraine comes alive through a tapestry of multisensory descriptions... Such descriptions are ethereal and transporting, but Belim balances them with a raw bluntness in her sketches of war and trauma... a book as poignant as it is timely... it reflects the indestructible strength of the Ukrainian people, who so fiercely hold on to hope
Caroline Eden, Times Literary Supplement
[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
A compelling, beautifully written and researched family memoir that weaves together the personal and the political and gives the reader an insight into the complexity of Ukraine's history
Meriel Schindler, author of The Lost Cafe Schindler
The familiar village symbol of a rooster on the roof hides a dark secret in Victora Belim's marvellously vivid and often heartbreaking account of a personal quest, one that leads us deep into the complexities that lie behind news headlines while introducing us to an unforgettable group of characters. I read it in a single enthralled sitting
Miranda Seymour, author of I Used to Live Here Once: The Haunted Life of Jean Rhys
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 imperilled 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
This magnificent memoir is hauntingly narrated by its author who takes you through her family's turbulent past and the mystery of her great-great uncle Nikodim... This riveting audio tracks Belim's search for truth
Sunday Post
A Wild Swans for Ukraine ... an enthralling, multilayered family story, told across four generations. Rich and magnificent. A marvel
Part memoir, part detective story ... [this] picture of a divided Ukrainian family shows how deep the divisions can be - and how to heal them means overcoming decades of silence, secrecy and denial
Blake Morrison, Guardian
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
Tom Pilgrim, Independent
A captivating family memoir spanning four generations ... Belim blends the personal and the historical to tell a moving, century-long tale of fear, hardship and resilience
The i
A haunting quest - beautifully told, with stunning momentum - travelling 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 Sibera
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
Irish Examiner
A touching memoir about four generations of a Ukrainian family
The i, Best New Books for May
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
Stunning... an expatriate Ukrainian returns in search of answers to modern and historical riddles in the packed earth of her bitterly disputed homeland
Strong Words