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

M E D I A  K I T

Interview with KMOS-TV

INTERVIEW with PHIL HOFFMAN, KMOS-TV (PBS)

 

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Interview with Paul Pepper, KBIA

INTERVIEW with PAUL PEPPER, KBIA (NPR)

“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. … 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

“The Education of a Traitor is a story of a Jewish girl, curious about life, struggling to grow in the mean-spirited and noxious atmosphere of Soviet Russia. …A fascinating glimpse of everyday life in the former Soviet Union. …Captivating …” —Eleana Gorokhova, author of Russian Tattoo

“This story turned my stomach, made me laugh out loud, and broke my heart, sometimes all in the same chapter. Grobman beautifully captures the childhood psyche in this touching story of family, the uncertainties of youth, and life in a forgotten, cloistered society.” Readers’ Favorite

“Grobman has a brilliant gift for writing. … Humor and irony fill the pages. I  highly recommend “The Education of a Traitor” for anyone that enjoys memoirs and anyone interested in taking a look behind the scenes of the Iron Curtain.”Reader Views

Punctuated with notable quotes and archival photographs from Svetlana’s childhood, The Education of a Traitor deal with heavy topics. Yet Svetlana stays grounded, and many of the chapters actually prove to be quite funny. Missouri Life Magazine

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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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From the Author:

Dear Friends,

My dream of publishing my first book — my memoir — has come true!  This book covers the first fifteen years of my life, but I spent five years writing it. Why so long? For one thing, I had to learn to write in English, for I came to this country knowing only Russian (and a little German:)). For another, my childhood was not happy. In fact, some of the things that happened to me then haunt me even now, and it hasn’t been easy to relive them. Yet that’s all in the past. My book, The Education of a Traitor, is out. I hope you like it. —Svetlana Grobman

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On Feeling Blue

“Are you feeling blue this morning? Want to go for a bike ride?” my husband said, looking up from his computer and smiling.

“We’ll see,” I said, tersely. My husband always gets up early, and by the time I drag myself out of bed, splash my face with cold water, and walk into his study, he already looks like a man who just won the lottery or was given a free sample of some useless product that is supposed to change his life.

Of course, I’m feeling blue! I’m not a morning person, so that’s how I feel every morning. Not to mention that I just looked at my Fitbit and read, “Went to bed too late!” What’s that about?! I didn’t buy it to admonish me! I just wanted to know if I got enough deep sleep (which I didn’t), so stick to that!

Fitbit aside, unbeknown to my husband, the American expression “feeling blue” means something very different to me. In my native Russia it doesn’t refer to being sad but to being homosexual, which in my mother country is still very bad news indeed. I’m not saying that everybody in Russia is a homophobe. In fact, when my daughter was young, she loved a cartoon called “The Blue Puppy.” In it, the cutest puppy you ever saw was rejected by everyone because of his color. I even remember the song the other puppies sang when he tried to approach them: “Goluboy, goluboy, nechotim igrat s toboy” (You are blue! You are blue! We will not play with you!) Amazingly, that story ended well for the blue puppy, and they all became friends in the end. (Even now, I cannot believe that Russian censors allowed it!)

Goluboy shchenok PosterImage result for blue puppy cartoon

As for the American meaning, I know people who, when feeling unhappy, eat or drink a lot. I also know a man who, when he got divorced, shaved his head and drove from Missouri to Alaska. That happened long before being bald became a fashion statement, and also before Americans traveling to Canada had to show their passports. So, when the guy arrived at the North Dakota-Canadian border at 5am in the morning with his head freshly sheared and a huge supply of canned goods (he was also short on money), the border patrol searched his car five times! First, because they had nothing else to do at that hour and second, because they believed that anyone like that must be smuggling drugs or firearms

In any case, eating or drinking won’t help me. For one thing, I watch my weight. For another, being from Russia, I’ve seen too many drunks lying on the street, so I don’t feel like emulating them in the US. As for shaving my head, my hair is one of the few features that still makes me presentable. Shaving it without any medical reason would make me look like that man in the Russian proverb: “I’ll poke my eye out so my mother-in-law will have an one-eyed son-in-law!”

My husband doesn’t know much about the intricacies of the Russian language. Besides, he believes that physical exercise cures life’s ups and downs, and bicycling is one of the things he prescribes for me freely. He’s not wrong about that. Since I no longer jog or play tennis (my knees gave out on me), bicycling is as good as anything (actually, there’s only one “other thing” left — walking). And so, an hour later, we found ourselves on the nearest biking trail, pedaling as quickly as we could in our age and watching young people effortlessly pass us.

Trump supporters aside, there’re only two kinds of people I hate with a passion: people who cut me off on the highway and immediately head for the exit, and young people who outdo me on the trail. How can I enjoy my retirement when I’m left literally in the dust? Where’s respect for old age?

Of course, old age is a major reason for feeling blue in the morning. As soon as I open my eyes, a stream of things that are wrong with me floods my mind. Vision, for example. It’s bad enough to have to wear glasses to see what I eat (I know they say that it’s the smell we react to, but from my experience, you still have to see what you’re putting in your mouth or you may deeply regret it!)

Worse, more and more often, I find myself leaving the house in at least one item of my clothing worn inside out. When that happened to me for the first time, I was still working, and when I finally noticed a label of my jacket informing me that it was made in China and consisted of 100% polyester, my first reaction was to blame my colleagues. Why didn’t they tell me? Do they hate me that much? Do they think I’m an old hippy or an Alzheimer’s sufferer? Now that I’m retired, there’s only one person to blame — my husband, who, no matter how I look or what I wear, always says, taking off his glasses, “You look ravishing!”

Speaking about that, looking good used to be very important to me. In Moscow where I grew up nobody would take her trash outside without putting on a decent dress (and possibly makeup!) and carefully combing her hair. Nowadays, I can go the whole day without even glancing in the mirror. And not because I took an oath to look like hell for the rest of Trump’s term, but because I just forget!

Then, there is hearing – so far not mine but my husband’s. Conversations like, “What would you like for dinner?” often trigger responses like: “Who did you say got thinner?”

Bicycling is good for me, though. It makes me feel content, although competitive, which is strange, because I’m not competitive in my regular life. Yet on the trail, my wounded pride gets the better of me. Of course, not every passerby gets me. The majority of bicyclists on our trail are nice. Some say, “Good morning!” till about 5pm. Some comment on the weather. And many ask if you need help when they see you carefully examining your bike with no tools in hand. Once, when I got flat tire two miles away from our house and had to walk my bike home, people stopped so often, that I now carry a little sign in my bag, “Thank you for asking! My bike and I are beyond help”

Some people even ask personal questions. Just recently, while my husband and I were resting on a bench, one lady slowed down, looked at us very thoughtfully and said, “How are you?!” And as long as she was in our line of vision, she kept turning her head towards us. I felt just fine before she asked, but watching her riding with her head backwards, I began worrying that her neck would snap or bicyclists coming from the opposite direction would run her over.

“Do you know her?” I said when she melted into the distance.

“No,” he said. “Do you?”

“No. What’s wrong with her?!”

But, I immediately felt ashamed of saying that. It was a nice gesture. Besides, it’s been a while since I looked at myself in the mirror and I examine my husband’s appearance only when we go to classical concerts. It’s conceivable that we both look so old and decrepit, that the woman was contemplating calling 911! Surely, she wasn’t a Trump supporter, so I could’ve said something nice to her, too, and not just stared at her as if she had offered me her no-good husband in exchange for mine.

By the way, that’s another thing that is wrong with me. I’m not quick on my feet. I can never say anything smart and witty on the spur of the moment, and I spend a long time afterwards mulling over the things I should have said but didn’t.

No, I take it back. Sometimes, not being able to express myself is a good thing. Like that time when the Westboro Baptist Church decided to descend on our synagogue during a Jewish holiday. Not being very religious myself, I wasn’t planning to go to the synagogue that day. Instead, I decided that I would drive there, stop my car in front of those ugly people and give them a piece of my mind using all taboo vocabulary I had mastered during my life in America (something I never did even in Russia where curses were much more intricate and the opportunities were more plentiful).

I carefully rehearsed everything I was going to say in my head, but on the appointed day, I blanked out. As luck would have it, my husband and I found ourselves driving in the direction of the synagogue at the same time the group was due to be there, and everything came back to me.

“Drive slowly,” I said to my husband. At first, he obeyed, but as we began approaching a small group of people standing on the corner and I began lowering the car’s window, he said: “What are you going to do?”

“You’ll see,” I said with so much feeling in my voice, that instead of slowing down, he accelerated, taking me and my anger away.

I didn’t talk to him for the rest of that day. Yet next morning, I read in the newspaper that the Westboro group never showed up and the people I saw on the corner came there to protest against the haters. In short, I was this close to insulting really good people!

Going back to bicycling. Besides its mostly wholesome atmosphere and the fitness aspect, you can run into interesting people that way. Since the trail we usually bike on is some 200 miles long and it connects the St. Louis area to the Kansas City area, people come from all over. You can always spot long-distance riders by the packs strapped to their bicycles. When they stop, it’s usually to replenish their water supply, take a breather, and look at the map. Most of them don’t linger but some do. They ask questions about the local area or make short conversation, and although the interactions don’t last long, there’s enough time to get a sense of what kind of people they are. In fact, it’s a game I play in my head.

Would I want to see this couple again? Or that guy with a sign “Waco Riders” on his jersey? Is he a NRA member, too? What about the group of young people playing Oldies?

 

That particular morning was hot and humid, and when we stopped at a trailside gazebo, I wasn’t feeling much better than I did in the morning.

“We should’ve stayed at home,” I started, wiping sweat from my forehead, but at that moment a middle-aged couple stopped at the gazebo, too.

“Are you local?” They asked.

The man wore a jersey that read, “Ride for Mental Health!” and the woman “Vote!” and in no time, the conversation switched to the state of mental health in America and, especially, youth suicide. Nothing was entertaining, but I began feeling better. The strangers were my kind of people, smart and caring, and I was already regretting that we’d never see them again.

Just as they were getting ready to leave, a large butterfly landed on of my husband’s blue jersey, and both the woman and I began snapping pictures of it with our phones. The butterfly didn’t seem to mind. It sat still on the blue fabric as if posing for a butterfly lovers’ magazine.

“I think it likes the color.” The woman said.

“Yes,” I joked, ““It must be “feeling blue.””

Everybody smiled and then they left.

Riding back, I didn’t pay attention to other bicyclists, even those who left me behind. I thought about the young people ending their lives and their parents. About our grandchildren and the difficult world we’re leaving them. And, at the end, about myself. Here I am, 66 years old, complaining about minor aches and pains, and constantly misplacing things. Do I have the right to “feel blue” about that? My grandfather never made it to 66! In fact, he never made it even to 62! As for me, I’ve lived a life. I’ve experienced things. I’ve traveled. And what is that “feeling blue” nonsense about anyway? Why do we attach feelings or stereotypes to words? After all, it might be just that – liking the color.

©Svetlana Grobman.  All Rights Reserved

If you’d like to see more of my photos, click here.

 

 

 

 

 

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