tilted 2-006“This book may be read on several  levels: either Christmas 2012-2014as a coming-of-age autobiography, or as a wider-ranging portrait of personal survival and growth. Either way, it’s about becoming free to live a full life. Exactly how this is achieved is the meat of a hard-hitting and involving story that delivers vignettes of change and survival using a powerful voice and a personal perspective that’s hard to put down.” Midwest Book Review 

“Each chapter functions as a stand-alone tale, depicting not only a moment in Grobman’s childhood, but also an aspect of Soviet life.  … 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.”                                                                         Kirkus Reviews






Book Synopsis

Svetlana (Sveta) Grobman grew up in a communal apartment in Moscow during the Cold War with her mother, father and younger sister. From a very young age, she found herself living in two contradictory worlds: the private world of a Jewish family struggling to live a decent life in a society rife with shortages and anti-Semitism; and the public world of an oppressive totalitarian regime that brainwashed its citizen into believing that the Soviet Union was the best country in the world.

Despite being constantly bullied and insulted by playmates, neighbors, and teachers, Sveta was a dreamer.  In the confinement of her cramped apartment, with a book in her hands, she dreamt about doing something significant for her country to earn its love and respect. Yet as Sveta matured and learned about the persecution of her family and the tragic deaths of her Ukrainian relatives during WWII, she realized that the world around her was built on lies and corruption, and that she needed to be strong just to survive.

Composed of a series of poignant and sometimes humorous stories, the Education of a Traitor is a luminous memoir that not only describes the experience of one Jewish child coming of age in Russia at the height of the Cold War, but also explains why millions of people chose to leave the Soviet Union when the Iron Curtain finally fell.


Readers’ Reviews

by Laurel Youmans on January 10, 2015
Format: Paperback

The Education of a Traitor, by Svetlana Grobman contains descriptive snapshots of domestic and family life in the former Soviet Union during the 1950s and 1960s. Capturing details of life within her families’ small apartments, and the rough play of the children of the neighborhood and at school, this book will warm your heart with the obvious love and affection of her parents and grandparents, but also at times amuse with childhood tales of misfortunes, successes, rivalries, and friendships.

The book expertly captures the inner and external tensions experienced as a Jewish child growing up in Moscow during the Cold-war era. Grobman adeptly crafts word pictures of the world around her and within her. Though generally serious, humor is an underlying factor in most of the stories as well. I greatly appreciate her literary effort in this first book in relating a life experience far removed from her current residence in Columbia, MO, and yet somehow familiar and close at hand, as she shares her childhood experiences living in Moscow and summer excursions to the countryside.

Thank you for an outstanding first book, Svetlana! Your narrative enlightens the past as well as the present and the future. Thank you for sharing your story.


by Gloria Banning on January 30, 2015
Format: Paperback

Svetlana Grobman has written a tantalizing memoir, relating tales from her childhood in post-World War II Russia. Written as a series of short essays, the book is a window into her life as a Jewish girl in Moscow. Her essays create pictures of her family–some humorous, some poignant, as they struggled to persevere in their lives. She had the kind of childhood anyone would have in a loving family, except her family lived in the shadow of Soviet Russia during the Cold War years. As she grew into young adulthood, she came to understand the stigma of being Jewish in an intolerant society.

I was born in the U.S., around the same time as the author. Reading her book, I was struck by many similarities in our childhoods. But I also appreciate the vast differences in the cultures we experienced as we grew up. I was born into a country where anything was possible–Svetlana Grobman was born behind the “Iron Curtain” first described by Winston Churchill in 1949. As a young Jewish woman, living under a government that did not allow for political or religious freedom, her possibilities were limited. Her memoir relates her growing realization of this oppressive society, and her need to find a better way for herself.

When the Iron Curtain finally fell, the author left Russia for a new life in the United States. “The Education of a Traitor” is a fascinating read, and I look forward to a second memoir. because I am anxious to read about how she dealt with the challenges of finding her way in a totally alien environment.


by Von Pittman, Ph.D. on February 21, 2015
Format: Paperback

Svetlana Grobman’s Education of a Traitor is an exceptionally well-rounded childhood memoir. Her account of her family’s dynamics is both loving and realistic. She does not romanticize the inevitable conflicts between herself, her parents, and her sister. Life under the Soviet system exacerbated family problems, especially for a Jewish family. On this point—among numerous others—a little girl’s memories gave me a real education. For example, Sveta shows us how a child’s educational or social failure could prevent him or her from joining the right communist youth groups, which could have long-term consequences.

I especially appreciated the way in which Grobman brought world events into the story of her family. For example, she shows the way in which the Soviet Union’s Sputnik success affected life in schools and the most mundane of workplaces. And I had never realized that the Kremlin had hushed up the Cuban Missile Crisis so successfully.

If Ms. Grobman should write another volume of memoirs, and I hope she will, I’ll look forward to reading more about how the increasing strains on the Soviet system were translated to the streets and to family life.

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UntitledSince my book came out, everybody I know says, “How exciting!”

This, of course, is a very typical American reaction. You tell somebody that you’re going for a bike ride on the weekend, and they say, “How exciting!”  Or you ask someone how they feel about starting a new job, and they tell you, “I’m excited!”

When I first came to this country, I thought that Americans must be the most excitable people on earth. Even now, after having lived in the country for twenty-four years, this inexplicable American enthusiasm never ceases to amaze me. You see, I’m from Russia. We never got excited. We got drunk. Or, when we felt something “exciting” come over us, we got into fights. That was it.

Of course, I personally don’t drink much, and I don’t fight either (well, only rarely, usually with my husband:)). But every time I hear “How exciting!” I feel like saying: “Exciting? What are you talking about? I’m stressed out and anxious!”

And the publication of my book is no exception. In fact, it has made me even more anxious than I usually am. Why? Because there are so many things that first-time-authors have to do when their books come out – publicity, marketing (when you spend five years of your life writing a book, you do want people to read it!), begging friends and colleagues to “please, if you like my book, submit a short review of it to Amazon.com!,” asking established authors to read your book (those, of course, never respond), and waking up at night because there was something you should’ve done but you haven’t, or because you’re obsessing about something that you have done.

This last one really got me last night. The thing is that even without my book project, I rarely have restful nights. One reason for that is insomnia, which, as I age, bothers me more and more, another — intense dreams that fill my nights when I finally fall asleep. Sometimes these dreams are continuation of the daily events — so realistic that I have a hard time in the morning discerning what was and what wasn’t a dream. Sometimes they are nightmares, and often, they are reminders of the things I could’ve done better. And that was what my dream was about last night.

In it, I was reading reviews of my book at Amazon.com (I’mreview told that I should have at least twenty of them, but I have only nine so far), trying to figure out whom else I could to ask for one, when I noticed a new review that I hadn’t seen before:

“It’s a good book, daughter. Thank you for writing it. Mom.”

This is strange. Mom doesn’t write — or read! — in English, — was my first dreamy thought.

She must’ve asked somebody for help — was my second.

No, wait! This must be a mistake! Mom is dead!

This last thought woke me up and I mentally went over the calendar. Mom died exactly two years ago. Two years before my book was published. Two years before anybody could write a review of it. And yet, the message seemed real; seemed like something Mom could say. Something I’d love to hear from her but never will.

I couldn’t go back to sleep after that, and I couldn’t get up either. In this twilight state, in my mind’s eye, I began turning pages of my book, one by one. She was there – if not on every page then in every story. She was a young doctor carrying a bag with a stethoscope, injection bottles, and other shiny medical things. She was there exclaiming “Look how blew the sky is! And the air, it’s so fresh!” She was the one wh1-IMG_1315_1o, when I tried to skip school on account of being sick, told me that “only dead people have no ailments.” And she was the woman crying over the burial of her own mother, my grandmother, the way I cried over hers.

I tossed and turned, and tried to go back to sleep, but finally, I got up, grabbed my book, and opened it. Under the title and other required information, it read: “To Alex and Amelia.”

Even before I finished my book, I knew that I would dedicate it to my grandchildren. To my wonderful grandchildren whom I love so much but see so rarely. It just seemed logical to do that, to pass a so-called “torch” to the next generation. But, was that the right thing to do?

Alex and Amelia, who are now 10 and 6 respectively, may never read my book. Hopefully, they will take a look at the pictures of their forebears, but being so young, they’re unlikely to be interested. Of course, there is a chance of them finding my book later in their lives and, if I’m very lucky, reading it. But will they even notice the dedication? Should I have dedicated my book to my mother instead? Or does it even matter?

She’s gone, and nothing I do will ever reverse that.  Of course, I have my memories of her, some of which I put in this very book. Many of those memories are good, some funny, but some are regrettable. For, as Mom aged, it was easy to get upset with her for saying things that were not “politically correct,” for being not as sharp in her 80s as we, her middle-aged daughters were in our fifties, for her extreme candor — undoubtedly a result of life spent in the country where everything was black and white, with no half-tones allowed.  It was easy and it was understandable. And yet, for two years now, I have been ashamed of those memories.15-svet_17

Well, too late now. Mom will never know about my regrets,as she’ll never know about my book. All I can do is to open a page with her picture and say, “Forgive me, Mom. The way you always did. As for this book, even though it’s not dedicated to you, it is as much about you as it is about me.”

©Svetlana Grobman. All Rights Reserved

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