Though this is a work of fiction, it is based in some degree on historical fact. Some of the events it portrays really happened. The story of my maternal grandfather’s escape from South Russia in 1906 was the one he told me six months before he died. And the key riddle of the novel, why my paternal great-grandmother was married in a mosque in Central Asia, assumes that she was. And she was. The diary entries found in Chapter 12 are filched from an old family diary that had been translated from the German by an unknown person at some bygone time. Several of the characters are based on actual persons—but only those who are deceased and so are in no position to protest my depictions of them. The other characters are creatures of my fancy.
But be forewarned: I am not the narrator, and he bears only a middling likeness to me. Young John Reisender is more of a scamp than I ever had the cheek to be. Mennonites and other German-speaking people have a word for those of John’s ilk: a Bengel, meaning a rascal, often loveable—at least in the opinion of those who have been blessed with the capacity for copious laughter.