“Even on the nicest, happiest days in our lives, our time here on Earth is never as good as it will be in Paradise.”
Why did Patrick’s mother abandon him? Will she ever come back? Where is God amid a six-year-old’s loneliness and feeling of betrayal? Life will answer some of these questions for Patrick during childhood, imbuing him with profound peace. He wonders to this day about the answers to others. What he knows for sure is that in November of 1953, his deeply depressed single mother dropped him off at an orphanage for the children of Russian refugees in France known as The Russian Boarding School. The school is a repurposed medieval castle, complete with an aristocratic lady, exiled during the Russian Revolution, whom staff and students alike call “the Princess.”
This is a novel heavily based on the author’s childhood. Albouy lived in an orphanage from age six to age seventeen, when he reunited with his mother and moved into her apartment. He readily admits that even his sensitive self experienced moments of an entirely human desire to make boyish mischief as he aged. As adolescents, he and his closest friends received the nickname The Gang of Black Eagles because of their inseparableness and their unceasing search for adventure. These recollections keep the narrative from a tone of extreme religiosity.
Still, teenage bravado cannot entirely hide Patrick’s fancifully tender nature. He recounts to his friends a conversation he claims to have had with an injured raven. Their unquestioning belief in what he says sets him apart as the gang’s leader. Patrick shows a softness and vulnerability more commonly seen in male protagonists in the novels of such Victorian authors.