Sosensky, in her debut memoir, describes her life in the Soviet Union between 1941 and 1974.
Truth, wrote Mark Twain, is stranger than fiction. It’s also often more interesting, as this memoir of Soviet life shows. Its author was born in Moscow in July 1941, just nine days after the Soviet Union entered World War II on the Allied side; she lost her mother to illness just three months later. With her father in combat, she was at first cared for by a woman in a village some 800 miles away. By age 5, however, she was living in an orphanage near her hometown; oddly enough, the orphanage became the source of her happiest memories. Eventually, her abusive father returned to claim her and his strictness made her life torture. At 14, she ran away from home to work at—and live in—a meatpacking plant, and that’s just the beginning of this woman’s extraordinary story. Her memoir is filled with details that will be familiar to readers with firsthand knowledge of Communist countries: her school days as a “pioneer”; the drab concrete apartment blocks; the rigid bureaucracy and endless shopping lines; and the lack of staples, such as toilet paper, that made contacts in the black market a necessity. Her request to emigrate to Vienna entailed enormous risk. The author also includes personal experiences, from her first kiss to a freak accident that put her in the hospital for months. Quite a lot happens here to engage readers, who will likely admire the author’s courage and determination. The prose style, however, doesn’t quite do it justice. The book doesn’t have a clear narrative arc; the chapters merely record event after chronological event, giving each roughly equal space and weight. Overall, the story has some forward momentum but little real sense of drama.
An intriguing but unevenly executed memoir.