A sometimes astonishing, worm’s-eye view of life under totalitarianism, and a valuable contribution to Soviet and Jewish...

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MY LIFE IN STALINIST RUSSIA

AN AMERICAN WOMAN LOOKS BACK

The thoughtful memoirs of a disillusioned daughter of the Russian Revolution.

Leder’s parents, Jews from the Ukraine, had emigrated to the US before the Revolution. They returned in 1931, convinced that Stalin’s promise of a socialist Jewish homeland would become an earthly paradise, and they took their 15-year-old daughter Mary (née Mackler) with them. Birobidzhan, the vaunted Red Jerusalem, turned out to be not much of a place; the commune to which the Macklers were assigned could not produce enough food to feed itself, the result less of an unforgiving climate than of deception and corruption brought on by a privileged caste of Communist Party officials who took the bulk of the harvest for themselves. The author’s parents eventually gave up in disgust and were allowed to return to the US—but young Mary was not. Instead, after relocating to Moscow, she was assigned to a branch of TASS to work as an editor and translator, her every comma examined for political correctness and her every typo examined for counterrevolutionary implications. Her life in Moscow, which she recounts in vivid detail, was a succession of daily indignities punctuated by episodes of political terror; added to this burden was the Russian tradition of anti-Semitism, which, though officially illegal, was still practiced in ways large and small. (Any Jew who ran a business, for example, no matter how poor, was classified as “petty bourgeois” and thus considered politically suspect; and whereas “American” was not an officially recognized nationality, “Jewish” was.) The author did not allow these slights to pass unchallenged, and in these pages she reveals herself to have been a spirited fighter, unafraid of asserting her rights to a succession of Soviet bureaucrats who must have been glad to see her go—when, after 30 years, she was finally allowed to return to the US.

A sometimes astonishing, worm’s-eye view of life under totalitarianism, and a valuable contribution to Soviet and Jewish studies.

Pub Date: March 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-253-33866-2

Page Count: 340

Publisher: Indiana Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2001

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Not an easy read but an essential one.

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HOW TO BE AN ANTIRACIST

Title notwithstanding, this latest from the National Book Award–winning author is no guidebook to getting woke.

In fact, the word “woke” appears nowhere within its pages. Rather, it is a combination memoir and extension of Atlantic columnist Kendi’s towering Stamped From the Beginning (2016) that leads readers through a taxonomy of racist thought to anti-racist action. Never wavering from the thesis introduced in his previous book, that “racism is a powerful collection of racist policies that lead to racial inequity and are substantiated by racist ideas,” the author posits a seemingly simple binary: “Antiracism is a powerful collection of antiracist policies that lead to racial equity and are substantiated by antiracist ideas.” The author, founding director of American University’s Antiracist Research and Policy Center, chronicles how he grew from a childhood steeped in black liberation Christianity to his doctoral studies, identifying and dispelling the layers of racist thought under which he had operated. “Internalized racism,” he writes, “is the real Black on Black Crime.” Kendi methodically examines racism through numerous lenses: power, biology, ethnicity, body, culture, and so forth, all the way to the intersectional constructs of gender racism and queer racism (the only section of the book that feels rushed). Each chapter examines one facet of racism, the authorial camera alternately zooming in on an episode from Kendi’s life that exemplifies it—e.g., as a teen, he wore light-colored contact lenses, wanting “to be Black but…not…to look Black”—and then panning to the history that informs it (the antebellum hierarchy that valued light skin over dark). The author then reframes those received ideas with inexorable logic: “Either racist policy or Black inferiority explains why White people are wealthier, healthier, and more powerful than Black people today.” If Kendi is justifiably hard on America, he’s just as hard on himself. When he began college, “anti-Black racist ideas covered my freshman eyes like my orange contacts.” This unsparing honesty helps readers, both white and people of color, navigate this difficult intellectual territory.

Not an easy read but an essential one.

Pub Date: Aug. 13, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-50928-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: One World/Random House

Review Posted Online: April 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2019

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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