Young Heroes of the Soviet Union: A Memoir and a Reckoning

Random. Mar. 2020. 320p. ISBN 9781400067060. $28. BIOG
In the ultimate act of self-retrospection, Halberstadt (Lonely Avenue) investigates his identity by traveling to Russia, his country of birth, to interview family and document the horrifying effects of the world wars. When the author learns that his grandfather is alive, but ostracized because of “unmentionable things” committed as a personal bodyguard of Joseph Stalin, Haberstadt develops a project to uncover secret histories and their reverberation through the generations. Traveling through Russia and Lithuania, Halberstadt visits his father, grandparents, and other distant relatives. The history of Jewish relatives in Lithuania suffering waves of pogroms is contrasted against his paternal grandfather’s conscription into the Soviet army and service for Stalin. Such a personal history stands apart from other titles because, although the journey is framed as a family narrative, historically detailed episodes are impressively illuminated. Particularly commendable is the archival research on Vilnius, Lithuania’s capital.
VERDICT An impeccably executed and unique genealogy that encourages us to examine the history that informs us of who we are.

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