Aleksei Lesnyanski

Otara idet na vetr The Sheep Vanish in the Wind
Sever. St. Petersburg 2015. 160 pages

The steppe between Altai and Krasnoyarsk. The Khakas people who live there raise sheep. Agribusiness is done, however, as factory-farming by the immigrant Russians from the town. Because a coal seam is discovered under the grazing area, the regional administration must decide between mining or stock farming. The farm is going through a difficult financial period. Volodya, the son of the Russian farmer, and his Khakas friend Sanya have other jobs to do in addition to looking after the sheep. For example, looking after visitors from the town who come to the lake to have a tenting holiday. When a pregnant tourist goes into premature labour and everyone panics, Sanya relies on his experience with animals and without hesitation assists the mother in the successful birth. Afterwards the two seventeen year old boys have to rescue a couple of deer which have escaped from the zoo. The experience of Sanya, the Khahas boy, once again proves the deciding factor. Overtired they return to their proper work of being shepherds. But the boys fall asleep before sunset and lose their herd. Following a day full of routine work they experience a terrible night, in which both humans and animals are at risk from the dangers of the steppe. The boys search high and low without success. Although they know no prayers, they pray. Although they are not religious, they confess their sins to each other and repent. During a downpour of rain they fall asleep exhausted. In the middle of the night they awake to a starry sky that appears to be very close. They think they are in heaven. But the stars are the sparkling eyes of the sheep which have returned by themselves.

By means of detailed and realistic descriptions of hard daily routines we are shown the current life in the Siberian steppes without any romantic idealism. Also every folkloristic illusion about the indigenous population who have been already been Russified is avoided. But in contrast to the down-to-earth descriptions of the living-conditions and of the unchanging nature, the solid bond between humans and animals reappears bearing the seeds of a successful future. And thus the author manages to create in his short, award-winning novel of a day in the life of two young friends, a contemporary parable of existentialist power.