Monday, November 2, 2009

Alan Philps & John Lahutsky's "The Boy from Baby House 10"

Alan Philps is an experienced foreign correspondent living in London. John Lahutsky is an American high school student who lives in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.

Their new book is The Boy from Baby House 10: From the Nightmare of a Russian Orphanage to a New Life in America.

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.

So Ford Madox Ford is a little off in his page 99 test. As far as I’m concerned, page 101 (a number favoured, of course, by George Orwell) is the real target.
Learn more about the book and its authors at Alan Philps' website and John Lahutsky's website.

--Marshal Zeringue