My book is based on a real child named Ivan Mishukov, and two amazing, heartbreaking, and ultimately (for me) inspiring years in his young life. Ivan, like tens of thousand of other children, found himself abandoned to the streets of Moscow in the mid 1990s. Yes, I said the 1990s, not the early part of the 20th century! When the Soviet Union fell in the early 1990s, the socio-economic impact on the people of Russia was devastating. Families who were barely hanging on by a thread suddenly found themselves without any kind of safety net. Yes, there had been food shortages and the infamous food lines when the Soviet Union was still in tact, but rent was controlled (by the government) to a minimal charge, health care was free, and pensions existed. All of that, plus much more, went away within just a few short years. By the mid 1990s there were an estimated 80,000 to 1 million children and teens living homeless on the streets of Moscow and St. Petersburg. The vast majority of these children were considered "social orphans." They had at least one living parent. At the same time, dogs were abandoned to the streets to fend for themselves as well. Anything that required money for food, shelter and care was abandoned to the streets.
|Ivan Mishukov, 1998|
I first came across Ivan's story in 2005 in an article on feral children. When I read it, the hair stood up on the back of my neck and I shivered all over. I knew that if I never wrote another book (or any book for that matter) I had to write Ivan's story. I made a copy of a photo of Ivan taken not long after his capture and separation from the dogs and pinned it to the bulletin board in my office. Every day I looked at those haunted eyes and promised him I would write his story.
It took eleven years, but I kept that promise.