Opening lines from Chapter 1:
“As a little girl I was brought up on fairy tales that always ended with the heroine getting married. The wedding was the happy ending.
That’s how I imagined my future; when I grew up I was going to get married.
I was born in Ukraine, in a small village called Volchanovka, which means ‘hill of wolves’.
Officially it was renamed Novogrigorovka in 1886, but Volchanovka is still used by locals. I always disliked the official name, Novogrigorovka, because I struggled to pronounce the letter R. Every time I was asked where I was from, I felt intimidated.
It all started one day in my village school. I was seven, in grade one. The school was in the building of an old private house, where all three grades often had to share the same classroom. There was a boy from grade three whom I liked. Although I’d never said anything to him before, I decided on this particular day to say Privet (‘Hello’). I waited until lunch break. He was the first to finish his meal. I followed him out of the dining room.
“Privet. My name is Albina.” I offered my hand to shake.
“Vorona is your name.” He crossed his arms, calling me a crow. “Karr, karr.” He started laughing, his eyes rolling as he mocked my pronunciation of the letter R.
Humiliated, I ran to the classroom and hid there for the rest of the lunch break, relieved that no one else had witnessed the scene. I didn’t know that I sounded abnormal.
After school, I told my mother about the boy.
“He probably likes you,” she smiled. “Boys do that. They tease girls they like.”
I knew that wasn’t true – he’d called me a crow! At home we had an old tape recorder, and that evening, I asked my dad to record my voice. I wanted to compare my pronunciation of privet to that of my twin brother, Lyosha, and my younger sister, Toma, who was just five.
My father recorded each of us, and when I listened to the recording, I could hear that my brother’s R, and even my baby sister sounded perfect in comparison to me. I did sound like a crow!
I cried hard that night. I just wanted to be normal like my brother and sister. My mum tried to calm me down by telling me how many other people there were in the world, many of whom were different. “Even Lenin couldn’t pronounce his Rs and look how many people loved him,” she tried to convince me. But it didn’t work.
I was on my own, and no one understood me. The other kids at school would soon also laugh at me. And when I grew up, nobody would want to marry me.
Who would want to marry a crow?”- Misfortune. A.Hume