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Gates of November: Chronicles of the Slepak Family

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Overview

"REMARKABLE . . . A WONDERFUL STORY."
—The Boston Globe

The father is a high-ranking Communist officer, a Jew who survived Stalin's purges. The son is a "refusenik," who risked his life and happiness to protest everything his father held dear. Now, Chaim Potok, beloved author of the award-winning novels The Chosen and My Name is Asher Lev, unfolds the gripping true story of a father, a son, and a conflict that spans Soviet history. Drawing on taped interviews and his harrowing visits to Russia, Potok traces the ...

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The Gates of November

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Overview

"REMARKABLE . . . A WONDERFUL STORY."
—The Boston Globe

The father is a high-ranking Communist officer, a Jew who survived Stalin's purges. The son is a "refusenik," who risked his life and happiness to protest everything his father held dear. Now, Chaim Potok, beloved author of the award-winning novels The Chosen and My Name is Asher Lev, unfolds the gripping true story of a father, a son, and a conflict that spans Soviet history. Drawing on taped interviews and his harrowing visits to Russia, Potok traces the public and privates lives of the Slepak family: Their passions and ideologies, their struggles to reconcile their identities as Russians and as Jews, their willingness to fight—and die—for diametrically opposed political beliefs.

"[A] vivid account . . . [Potok] brings a novelist's passion and eye for detail to a gripping story that possesses many of the elements of fiction—except that it's all too true."
—San Francisco Chronicle

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Novelist Potok (The Chosen) presents here the history of a family of Soviet Jews centered on the relationship of father and son. Solomon Slepak was an old-guard Bolshevik who never lost his faith in the party-and survived the Stalinist purges miraculously and mysteriously (Stalin exterminated almost all old party members). His son, Volodya, grew up believing in the party but, as he married and started raising a family, came to question the Communist system and eventually became a refusenik, a dissident who protested openly against the regime. The author met Volodya and his wife, Masha, in 1985 while on a trip to Moscow. This compelling account, which is also a chronicle of the Soviet dissident movement, highlights the heroism, and sacrifice, of those who stand up to the power of a totalitarian state. (Nov.) FYI: The title comes from a line of poetry by Aleksandr Pushkin.
Library Journal
Potok, the celebrated author of best-selling novels of Jewish life (e.g., The Chosen), here turns to biography to tell of two generations, father and son, in a Russian Jewish family. Against the backdrop of 19th-century Russian prejudice, the author portrays the life of the father, Solomon, who casts his lot as revolutionary, Bolshevik, and Soviet-and never looks back as the regime returns to its anti-Semitic past. Meanwhile, his son, Volodya, raised as an assimilated Jew in Soviet society, finds his own role as rebel, becoming a Zionist and leading dissident when faced with Soviet discrimination. Potok, a family friend, had access to their records to explore the rift between the generations and the broader question of the nature of the loyal citizen who turns revolutionary. His well-written, thought-provoking book will find an audience among generalists and historians. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 7/96.]-Rena Fowler, Humboldt State Univ., Arcata, Cal.
Kirkus Reviews
Potok, whose novels of families at odds with themselves ring so true (I Am the Clay, 1992, etc.), turns his attention to a deeply divided real-life family of Russian Jews.

Volodya Slepak's name will be familiar to anyone who was active in the movement to free Soviet Jews in the 1970s and '80s. He and his wife, Masha, were two of the most steadfast of the "refuseniks," Jewish activists who were denied exit visas to emigrate to Israel from the Soviet Union. What is less familiar about Slepak is his family's unusual history. His father, Solomon, was a high-ranking functionary in the Bolshevik movement who weathered the purges and bloodshed of the Stalin era. Virtually until his death in his late 70s, Solomon continued to uphold the party and the Kremlin, disdaining his son's political activities. Potok, who first encountered Volodya when he himself was active in the movement for Soviet Jewry, has had access to many hours of taped interviews with Volodya, Masha, their two sons, and other family members and friends, and he has used them to reconstruct the story of a bitterly estranged father and son, and the ideological civil war that split them apart. Regrettably, because so much of the history of Solomon's life is missing—the KGB wouldn't release his files, much of his early story can only be garnered by reconstruction and guesswork—the first half of the book is sketchy and unsatisfying. When Potok begins to trace Volodya's history, his novelist's eye and ear help bring the tale to life. But the end of the story is a somber one, with both Volodya and the author given to pessimistic ruminations on the future of their respective homelands.

While not on a par with his best fiction, this Potok offering will engage many readers, particularly those with vivid memories of the struggles of, and for, Soviet Jews.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780449912409
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 9/28/1997
  • Edition description: 1 BALLANTI
  • Pages: 272
  • Product dimensions: 5.51 (w) x 8.24 (h) x 0.54 (d)

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 8, 2013

    True Historical Drama

    The story of the Slepak family -- the father a Bolshevik revolutionary, and the son a Soviet dissident -- is fascinating. It blends a very personal biography with significant historical events, cultural influences, at times cruel and at times nonsensical political decision-making, and an exploration of what it takes for a people to risk everything for a hope and a future. In this case, truth is stranger -- and better drama -- than fiction.

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