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In January 1931 Mary M. Leder, an American teenager, was attending high school in Santa Monica, California. By year's end, she was living in a Moscow commune and working in a factory, thousands of miles from her family, with whom she had emigrated to Birobidzhan, the area designated by the USSR as a Jewish socialist homeland. Although her parents soon returned to America, Mary, who was not permitted to leave, would spend the next 34 years in the Soviet Union. For much of the time she was an idealistic supporter of Soviet socialism and a dedicated member of the Young Communist League. She studied at Moscow University, worked at the Foreign Languages Publishing House, and was recruited and trained for espionage. She married Abram Leder, a young man from a Jewish family in Rostov whose family perished during the Nazi occupation; while Abram served as a Soviet army officer on the German front, Mary was evacuated for a short time to the Volga town of Engels, where their infant daughter died. Her faith in the system remained unshakable until the postwar era, when the rising tide of anti-Semitism and xenophobia began to take its toll on her life. By the mid-1940s, Mary's loyalty to the USSR had collapsed. After Abram died in 1959, she applied for an exit visa, but it was not granted. Not until 1965 was she able to return permanently to the United States.
My Life in Stalinist Russia chronicles Mary's experiences and her friendships, from the extraordinary perspective of both an insider and an outsider, during the First Five Year Plan, the Great Terror, the German invasion, World War II, the Soviet occupation of Berlin, and the beginning of the Cold War. Her story is a microcosm of Soviet history and an extraordinary window into everyday life and culture in the Stalin era. Readers will be drawn into the life of this resourceful, independent-minded young woman, coming of age in a society that she believed was on the verge of achieving justice for all but which ultimately led her to disappointment and disillusionment. An exceptional source with which to introduce the general reader to Soviet history and culture, My Life in Stalinist Russia sheds valuable light on the ways in which ordinary Soviet citizens coped with daily life in an era of upheaval.
About the Authors:
Since her return from the Soviet Union in 1965, Mary M. Leder has lived in New York City.
Laurie Bernstein is Associate Professor of History at Rutgers University. She is author of Sonia's Daughters: Prostitutes and Their Regulation in Imperial Russia and currently writing a book on dependent children in the Soviet era.
Robert Weinberg is Associate Professor of History at Swarthmore College. He is author of The Revolution of 1905 in Odessa, Blood on the Steps (Indiana University Press), and Stalin's Forgotten Zion: Birobidzhan and the Making of a Soviet Jewish Homeland.
— C. W. Haury, Piedmont Virginia Community College
Posted January 28, 2005
As an avid reader of biographies and memoirs, I have often been disappointed by personal accounts of historical events. What I am looking for is the human perspective. This book delivers that and more. Mary's accounts are touching and emotional without any hints of self-pity or self-promotion. She is inherently humble about her triumph over so many challenges that would have broken many other women. The book also gives a unique perspective into a chapter in recent history that Americans still only see one side of. It reminds us that nobody wins on any side of world conflict, and that the struggles of life are essentially the same, regardless of your nationality or political affiliation. The book is very readable, never dull, and engages you in the lives of the characters from the first page. Highly recommended.
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