Many of the books I share here are books that I grew up with. There is something special about books from your childhood. Varenka by Bernadette was one of my favourites.
I tried to find out more about Bernadette – I have several of her books – but her surname is not mentioned anywhere. Edit: Bernadette is, of course, Bernadette Watts and here is a link to her site. Varenka is not a re-telling of a Russian folk tale as I previously stated, but written by Bernadette herself. Each picture fills the entire page, so I was forced to reproduce mostly cropped details here. Which really does not convey the beauty of the book.
Varenka was a widow who lives in a little wooden house deep in the great forest. “Inside was everything Varenka needed, a table, chairs, a cupboard with a shelf for crockery, and picture on the wall.”
But all is not well in Varenka’s world. A great war rages in the west and she meets many refugees warning her to flee with them, because the soldiers were drawing nearer each day.
Varenka is very frightened, but she refuses to leave, asking: “Who will look after the tired travellers, and the children who get lost in the forest?”
She locked herself up inside her little wooden house and prayed, asking that God should build a wall around her house so that the soldiers wont see her.
Day after day, she hears the cannons get louder in the distance. She meets more people who are fleeing from the soldiers – they have nowhere to go because the soldiers burnt their houses down, and killed their families. They are an old man called Pieter, an artist called Stefan, and a little girl called Belia. They shelter with Varenka in her little house.
Every night the cannons grow louder, and Varenka prays that God should build a wall to hide her and her friends. But every night, God does not build a wall.
Until one morning she wakes up and finds everything covered in a thick blanket of snow.
That noon, the soldiers arrive. Everyone in the little house sat quietly listening to them march past:
But the soldiers never notice Varenka’s house behind it’s wall of snow.
The war moves away from that part of Russia, and soon enough, it was springtime.
I still love this book so much. I can smell the bread Varenka bakes when Belia shows up crying outside her window, and Stefan is my hero:
Note: Varenka is Copyright NordSud Verlag, Monchaltorf, Switserland. The Afrikaans edition that I own, is Copyright Tafelberg Uitgewers, Kaapstad and Johannesburg.