THE EDUCATION OF A TRAITOR: A MEMOIR OF GROWING UP IN COLD WAR RUSSIA
“This book may be read on several levels: either as 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
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.
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.
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.
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.