An American Woman Looks Back
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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 1st, 2001
ISBN: 0-253-33866-2
Page count: 340pp
Publisher: Indiana Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1st, 2001