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The Boy from Baby House 10

by Alan Philps and John LahutskySt. Martin's Press; 24.99

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In the years since we adopted our daughter, Natalie (nee Valya), from an orphanage in Russia, I’ve been reluctant to read about the conditions under which kids live in such institutions. With my much-loved child in mind, the truth about orphanage life was too painful for me to face.

Despite this, when I heard about The Boy from Baby House 10: From the Nightmare of a Russian Orphanage to a New Life in America (St. Martin’s Press; $24.99), my gut said, “Read it!” So I did. I devoured it in two days, and I wanted to turn back to the first page and read it all again.

Publishers seem to shy away from stories that document the struggles that precede (or God forbid, follow) the happily-ever-after premise of adoption. Perhaps it was coauthor Alan Philps’s journalistic style that made his bid to tell this story successful. The result is a non-sensational and skillfully researched story of one boy’s life in Russia’s state child care system, crafted in collaboration with the subject himself, John Lahutsky (nee Vanya).

Vanya has cerebral palsy. He and other imperfect children in Baby House 10 languished in cribs within the walls of one room, without medical treatment or therapies, without an education, without nurture. But Vanya’s personality and potential caught the attention of a visitor. The book chronicles how that chance meeting led to Vanya’s winning the affection of several system-outsiders, and to a journey that culminated in Vanya-turned-John finding an adoptive mom in the U.S., where he’s flourishing today.

The authors’ accounts of Russia and its institutions ring true to my memories of our two trips to Russia to adopt Natalie. They fill in the blank spaces of her pre-adoption story. The specifics of life in Baby House 10 explain my daughter’s state of being when we first met her, and the developmental challenges she’s still fighting to overcome.

The Boy from Baby House 10 convinced me that, in order for parents to appreciate our post-institutionalized children’s resilience, we must face the reality of their past—no matter how painful.

And adults throughout the world must consider this book a call to action, because, sadly, there are still many babies in many other Baby House 10s.

Reviewed by Kay Marner, a freelance writer, who is a mother by birth and adoption. Learn about her work on behalf of the world’s Vanyas and Valyas at

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