________________ CM . . . . Volume XI Number 6 . . . .November 12, 2004



John Reid.
Halifax, NS: Fernwood Books, 2004.
128 pp., pbk., $12.95.
ISBN 1-55266-147-4.

Subject Headings:
Trotsky, Leon, 1879-1940-Imprisonment-Juvenile fiction.
Trotsky, Leon, 1879-1940-Family-Juvenile fiction.
Amherst (N.S.)-Juvenile fiction.

Grades 6-8 / Ages 11-13.

Review by Ian Stewart.

** /4



"My name is Lev Leonovitch Sedov. My mother is Nataliya Sedova and my father is the famous Leon Trotsky." He looked at me to see my reaction, but he must have been disappointed. The name was vaguely familiar, but I couldn't have said for sure who Leon Trotsky was. "You must have heard of him," Lev went on with pride. "He is a great revolutionary...When I got here though I had no money and no place to stay. I decided to look for boys my own age and see if someone would help me find a place to hide out. Perhaps they might even help me find my father..."

How did I know that his unlikely story was true? Even if it was true, what was this Leon Trotsky to me? Maybe he deserved to be in the prison camp?


Escape is a historical novel that takes place in the small town of Amherst, Nova Scotia. Amherst seems like an odd location to place a revolutionary icon like Leon Trotsky. However, according to John Reid's research and simply because fact is always stranger than fiction, it is a fact that Trotsky had been imprisoned in a Nova Scotia camp for "enemy aliens" during the First World War. What is not known, however, is why the Communist provocateur and his family were released and allowed to return to Russia on the eve of the revolution. The story begins in an archive in the Ukraine. An archivist hands a Canadian academic a document and simply tells him that it might be interesting for his research. Although initially uninterested, he has the 128 page document copied and is soon immersed in a tale of remarkable coincidences, courage, luck and tragedy. The document reveals that Leon Trotsky's son Lev had made his way to Amherst in the hope of seeing his father. He hears a boy speaking Russian and decides to ask him for help. The boy is a Ukrainian immigrant named Alexi, and he agrees to help. He takes Lev to meet his parents, and they concoct a plan for Lev to get into the prison to see his father. One thing leads to another, and a complicated escape plan is hatched. Trotsky escapes from prison, but Alexi, not Lev, was spirited off to Russia and was forced to live his life thousands of miles away under the Communist dictatorship. It wasn't until he was an old man that he was allowed to re-immigrate to Canada to be re-united with his family and the now old man who had changed his life forever.

     The idea of a researcher finding this remarkably tragic document creates a perfect venue for Reid's story. However, the writing is colorless, and readers will be frustrated by the wooden nature and limited character development of the major players in the story. It is very hard to care about the tragedy that unfolds when we have no solid reasons to empathize with them. As well, they will be disappointed with how little is learned about life in Canada during the First World War. We are only given stereotypes that we are expected to patently admire or naturally despise. Alexi's life in the Soviet Union is also barely revealed. The extraordinarily heartrending tale that Reid created could have been magnificent if better written and adequately developed. I am disappointed it is so ordinary. Perhaps some teachers will be able to rescue it in their classes.

Recommended with Reservations.

A regular book reviewer for the Winnipeg Free Press, Ian Stewart teaches at David Livingstone School in Winnipeg, MB.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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