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THE EDUCATION OF A TRAITOR: A MEMOIR OF GROWING UP IN COLD WAR RUSSIA

 

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.” D. Donovan, 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

 

 

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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.

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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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As Good as It Gets or Happy Valentine’s Day!

1-IMG_1657-002We got married on Valentine’s Day.  My husband thought that it was romantic. (Well, he also figured that it would help him remember our future anniversaries). I thought it was cute and also special, since there was no Valentine’s in my home country, Russia. Yet whatever our ideas about the joys and responsibilities of marriage were, our Valentine’s wedding turned out to be a true commitment.

I’m not talking about the everyday challenges of married life: suppressing your true feelings about endless football, basketball, and what-ever-ball games, picking up things lying around the house (like his size-large gloves on our dining table), suffering through Chinese meals he loves so much, and patiently repeating questions that he cannot hear because he’s watching some bloody thriller on TV. You expect these things after you say, “I do.”  I’m talking about difficulties that are outside our control, like every year we want to celebrate our anniversary, we have to beat a whole slew of people who go out on Valentine’s Day just for fun.

It took us some time to realize what we got ourselves into, since our first anniversary we (meaning me) had to plan a long time in advance anyway.  That year, Valentine’s happened to fall on Friday, so we drove to St. Louis (a two-hour drive) for an “Evening of Romantic Music,” performed by the St. Louis Symphony. IMG_1964 Since we had to buy tickets a couple months earlier, it seemed only logical to reserve a hotel room and a dinner to go with it well in advance, too.

Everything worked like a charm that time.  The orchestra was good, the music was beautiful and romantic (with the exception of Camille Saint-Saëns’ Samson and Delilah, which I personally find erotic and not a good PR for women:)). And after the concert, every woman was given a piece of chocolate and a rose.

For our second anniversary we drove to Kansas City (also a two-hour drive) to see a Russian opera “Eugene Onegin.” That also had to be carefully arranged, since the opera seemed to have attracted every Russian living in a 100-mile-radius of Kansas City. (There were a few Americans there, too — probably spouses or companions of the Russians:)).IMG_5396

Later, things began getting harder. For our third anniversary, I planned another out-of-town outing, which included visiting an art museum and other stuff like that.  Yet the weather turned bad, and although the temperature was 35 degrees Fahrenheit, the roads were covered with sleet (how can rain turn into ice when the temperature is above freezing is beyond me!). So, instead of enjoying the experience, all I could think about was whether we’d get home alive.

After that, I decided that February is not a good month for traveling, and we should celebrate our anniversary locally. There were other reasons for that, too. For one thing, Valentine’s Day rarely takes place on weekends, and unless you don’t have to work or you’re retired (which my husband now is, but I am not), next day you have to go to work. For another, sleeping in a strange bed has much less attraction for me now.

The thing is I am a creature of habit.  I eat the same cereal every day. I sleep on the same side of the bed. And when we go to the movies, I like to have my husband to the left of me, so I can lean on his shoulder if I feel sleepy, and when we attend concerts, he has to be on my right, so I can squeeze his hand with my right hand when I get excited.

I like going to the same restaurants, too, and I usually order the same dishes in each one of them.  Yet, as soon as I get used to a particular restaurant, it folds down. Is that because I always order the same meal or because we don’t eat out often enough, or both, I cannot tell. All I know is that it’s getting harder and harder to make reservations at those few I like.IMG_7248

Some of them don’t even take reservations for two people. (How do they expect couples to celebrate Valentine’s?  To my knowledge, communal living, which was so popular in the 1960-1970s, is long gone!).  Some restaurants don’t take reservation for holidays, and some seemed to be full even if you call them just after New Year’s!  They first say that it is too early, but when you call them close to Valentine’s, it’s already to late:).  Of course, it’s all relative. A friend of ours, who once found himself stuck in Tokyo, feeling lonely, decided to go to a nice restaurant. Yet they wouldn’t serve him at all!  The reason being that he went there alone.

_MG_4250-002Another thing about celebrating an anniversary on Valentine’s Day is that there is too much chocolate around, which is a terrible temptation for chocoholics like me:). Once, during our Valentine’s dinner, I ate a whole flowerless chocolate cake (my husband doesn’t like chocolate)! It tasted great while I was eating it, but, for the rest of that day, I didn’t feel so good. Since then, I’ve ordered chocolate-covered strawberries, so I eat less chocolate and more vitamins.

And what about flowers? You’ve got to have roses for Valentine’s, right? Yet again, roses triple in price on that day, and I don’t even like them that well.  One year, I told my husband that I like orchids much better (we had no orchids in Moscow, so they seem special to me, too). The problem with that is that I have a green thumb, and as soon as orchids appear in our house, they just stay there. And since my husband buys new orchids every year, recently, I looked around and realized that our house resembled a jungle, and I was spending all my free time watering orchids!

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Well, once again, our anniversary is coming around, marking the eighteen years we have spent together. To tell the truth, despite all my complaints, I still like the fact that we got married on Valentine’s. I like talking about it and, more importantly, I still love my husband. And although the passion that brought us together all those years ago may not be as burning as it once was, there is no tragedy in that. For what really counts in people’s lives is mutual trust and respect, and also that hand you can squeeze in the moment of excitement and that shoulder on which you can lean in a moment of weariness or distress and feel valued and protected by the person by your side. And that is as good as it gets.2778 2

©Svetlana Grobman. All Rights Reserved

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