Emil Draitser is a Professor of Russian at Hunter College of the City University of New York. In addition to his twelve books, his work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, the Partisan Review and the North American Review.
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Many years after making his way to America from Odessa in Soviet Ukraine, Emil Draitser made a startling discovery: every time he uttered the word "Jewish" — even in casual conversation — he lowered his voice. This behavior was a natural product, he realized, of growing up in the anti-Semitic, post-Holocaust Soviet Union, when "Shush!" was the most frequent word he heard: "Don't use your Jewish name in public. Don't speak a word of Yiddish. And don't cry over your murdered relatives." This compelling memoir conveys the reader back to Draitser's childhood and provides a unique account of midtwentieth-century life in Russia as the young Draitser struggles to reconcile the harsh values of Soviet society with the values of his working-class Jewish family. Lively, evocative, and rich with humor, this unforgettable story ends with the death of Stalin and, through life stories of the author's ancestors, presents a sweeping panorama of two centuries of Jewish history in Russia.
"This painful and acutely observed memoir will resonate with many readers."
[Draitser's] narrative eloquently testifies to the persistence of Russian Jews in maintaining their identity as well as to the value of the protest movement on their behalf."
"A wonderfully evocative memoir of childhood and adolescence during one of the most tragic epochs in Russian history. As grim as the historical background of the memoir is, the mood is redeemed by Draitser's perfectly Odessan Jewish humor, sad yet optimistic, compared with that of another great Odessan, Isaak Babel."
-Lara Vapnyar, author of There are Jews in My House
"Draitser examines Odessa's social fabric as exemplified in film, literature, humor, headlines, holidays and vernacular to offer valuable, poignant snapshots of this turbulent, terrifying time. . . . Whimsical, heartfelt and candid."
"Emil Draitser resurrects the world of his Jewish childhood in the Soviet Union touchingly and with a great sense of humor, a truly rare quality."
-Solomon Volkov, author of Shostakovich and Stalin
"Emil Draitser's memoir tells me, adroitly and movingly, more about being a child in Stalin's Russia than all the fiction and nonfiction I had read before put together. His work has worldwide appeal."
-David Westheimer, author of Von Ryan's Express
"The hardships experienced by Soviet Jews are poignantly described in this memoir."
—The Jerusalem Post