Where the Jews Aren't: The Sad and Absurd Story of Birobidzhan, Russia's Jewish Autonomous Region - Masha Gessen

Staff Pick

Masha Gessen is one of the best contemporary writers on Russian society and politics today. Here she delves into a fascinating and sad page of Russian-Jewish history, when after the Bolshevik revolution Jews were granted their own homeland in far-eastern Siberia where they were promised cultural and political autonomy. However soon after Stalin’s rise to power Birobidzhan’s Jewish identity began to be suppressed. Gessen skillfully uses example of the life of David Bergelson, one of the 20th Century’s most renowned Yiddish writers and a Birobidzhan emigrant, to personalize the tragic story of this remote area that was briefly a beacon of hope for the Jewish people.

Where the Jews Aren't: The Sad and Absurd Story of Birobidzhan, Russia's Jewish Autonomous Region (Jewish Encounters Series) By Masha Gessen Cover Image
ISBN: 9780805242461
Availability: Special Order—Subject to Availability
Published: Schocken - August 23rd, 2016

Secondhand Time: The Last of the Soviets - Svetlana Alexievich, Bela Shayevich

Staff Pick

The world should thank the Nobel committee of 2015 for calling its attention to Svetlana Alexievich. A previously little known Belarusian journalist with a remarkable talent for oral history, Alexievich is an unconventional choice in a field of novelists and poets. Yet her books have the complex plots, memorable characters, lyricism, pathos, and truth of any great literary work. This is especially the case with the wrenching Secondhand Time (Random House, $30). Assembling hundreds of interviews conducted since the end of the Soviet era, Alexievich worked to “admit feelings into history.” As she talked to workers and students, victims and executioners, heroes and parents, she tapped into an almost overwhelming vein of emotion; her subjects laugh and cry at once. They give way to cathartic outbursts worthy of the classical tragedies. They exclaim that they’ve never told anyone these things before. Some stories have been repressed for decades, other are as fresh as the ethnic divisions of today’s headlines; all carry an irresistible intensity and urgency. Together, they reflect the “sheer schizophrenia” of this moment in Russian history, when the older generation regrets the lost idealism of communism, defends the “socialist idea,” and wonders if “instead of a motherland, we live in a huge supermarket,” while younger people are impatient with tradition, dismissing the great “Russian novels” because they ”don’t teach you how to become successful, how to get rich.” Can a land of such sharply discordant views cohere? Maybe. When Alexievich abandons individual interviews and records the diverse statements she overhears at public events, the result isn’t incoherence or non sequitur but a monologue as eloquent and compelling as any.

Secondhand Time: The Last of the Soviets By Svetlana Alexievich, Bela Shayevich (Translator) Cover Image
ISBN: 9780399588808
Availability: Special Order—Subject to Availability
Published: Random House - May 24th, 2016

Secondhand Time: The Last of the Soviets By Svetlana Alexievich, Bela Shayevich (Translated by) Cover Image
By Svetlana Alexievich, Bela Shayevich (Translated by)
ISBN: 9780399588822
Availability: In Stock—Click for Locations
Published: Random House Trade Paperbacks - March 21st, 2017

Voices from Chernobyl: The Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster - Svetlana Alexievich

Alexievich practices a unique and compelling kind of authorship; withholding comment, she chronicles the Chernobyl catastrophe by letting those who experienced its various cultural, personal, economic, and other fallouts have their say. Her collage of statement, testimony, lament, and other uncategorizable expressions of hope and horror is immediate and impassioned. Ranging from evacuated residents (two million of the ten million Belorussians live on “poisoned land”), refugees from Chechnya and other wars relocating to the emptied communities, military “liquidators” ordered to bury toxic topsoil and shoot abandoned animals, the mothers of children born deformed, farmers who raise “radioactive byproduct” not crops, this book is a stunning portrait of a new people, the feared and isolated Chernobylites, akin only to the Hibakusha of Hiroshima.