KIRKUS REVIEWS—July 1st issue
THE BOY FROM BABY HOUSE 10: A Child’s Journey from Heartbreak to Happiness
Muckraking memoir exposes Russia’s nightmarish orphan-care system.
Aided by British journalist Philps, Lahutsky recounts his experiences in the “children’s gulag,” a Stalinist-era relic that operates to this day. Now a high-school student living with his adoptive mother in Pennsylvania, at the time the book opens Lahutsky was a toddler named Vanya, abandoned by his birth mother and diagnosed with cerebral palsy. He was sent to the titular orphanage, a decrepit human warehouse whose head doctor was a superstitious peasant rather than a medical professional. Children with physical disabilities like Vanya’s were routinely declared mentally retarded by Russian authorities, then consigned to orphanages where therapy was nonexistent. But Baby House 10 was the Taj Mahal compared to the internet (asylum) to which Vanya was later shuttled to spend the rest of his life. A hellhole in which children were sedated and left in steel-barred cribs soiled with their own urine and faeces, the internet spurred reporter Philps, his wife and some humane Russian caregivers to make heroic efforts to save Vanya. The book details his torturous ordeal with the Russian state bureaucracy and an aborted adoption by a British family, as well as his ultimate connection with a loving American mother. None of his setbacks snuffed out Vanya’s indefatigable resilience, which was his salvation and comprises the most remarkable part of his story.
An emotionally draining but haunting document of human cruelty, kindness and survival.
Review by "The Page 99 Test".
Philps applied the “Page 99 Test” to The Boy from Baby House 10 and reported the following:
Page 99 is one-third of the way through the book. The reader has got to know Vanya, the hero, who has been dumped in a Russian orphanage and cruelly misdiagnosed as an ineducable imbecile, despite his fluent speech and knack of making friends wherever he goes. At the age of six, he is moved from the orphanage and incarcerated in an adult mental asylum. This is a living hell which Vanya is unlikely to survive. The reader knows that Vanya escapes and goes on to find a new life in America, but how does he do it?
At this stage, Sarah, an Englishwoman who has followed her husband to Moscow, is asked by the head of the orphanage (a weak character who is terrified of authority) to rescue Vanya from the asylum. Sarah feels like a girl in a fairy tale who is given an impossible task by a witch disguised as a kindly old woman. She has got to know Vanya in the orphanage but what can she, a foreigner with no authority, do to help? As weeks pass in indecision, she feels that Vanya is beyond rescue. But one night, she receives a call from someone who says Vanya is asking after her.
On page 99 she sets off to find the asylum – a daunting barrack in the middle of the countryside – and do battle with the head doctor, whom she finds in a cosy room with carpets, plants and big TV, while the children slop around in their own urine on bare mattresses.
Does The Boy from Baby House 10 pass the p99 test? It is a key moment, but to be honest, it is mainly about discovering the asylum and setting the scene. There are many points in the narrative where you would need a heart of stone not to cry. One of these comes on page 101 when Sarah leaves the asylum and looks back and sees the hands of the teenagers used as slave labour stretched out towards her, begging her to come back. The realisation of the fate that awaits Vanya forces her into action.