Grobman’s debut memoir explores her childhood in the Soviet Union.
The author was born into a Jewish family in Moscow in 1951, near the end of Josef Stalin’s reign. As a child, Grobman shared the experiences common to other urban Russians of her generation: overcrowded housing, summertime trips to dachas, enforced social conformity. From an early age, she escaped her Soviet reality by reading stories, beginning with folk tales about mythical figures such as Baba Yaga. When she began school, though, she was indoctrinated into the communist system. Portraits of Vladimir Lenin and Nikita Khrushchev hung on the classroom walls, alongside banners proclaiming, “Thank You Our Dear Communist Party for Our Happy Childhood!” Grobman initially accepted this dogma, but at the same time, she was aware that her family was different than their neighbors’; they were Jews in a society which didn’t tolerate ethnic minorities. Her family conversed in Yiddish at home but didn’t allow her to learn the language for fear that she would stand out and be persecuted. As Grobman entered her teenage years, her eyes began to open to her native country’s brutality and to the past traumas that her family suffered at the hands of both the Nazis and Stalin. Although history looms heavily in the background of the memoir, the author’s accounts of her young life are informed more by her day-to-day experiences with her family, school, and neighborhood than by the broader political situation. The book isn’t filled with drama; rather, most episodes focus on subtler problems arising from the daily indignities of communism, long-simmering family issues, and societal anti-Semitism. The prose is readable and familiar, creating an effect much like listening to a relative recount family stories. Each chapter functions as a stand-alone tale, depicting not only a moment in Grobman’s childhood, but also an aspect of Soviet life. Overall, although this memoir delivers few great revelations and breaks little new ground, it does provide a relatable, personal portrait of Jewish life in Soviet Moscow in the 1950s and ’60s.
An intimate look at a young woman’s struggle to find her own truth in a repressive society.