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My Life in Stalinist Russia

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2001 Hardcover New in New dust jacket 0253338662. Book and DJ are New, No price on DJ, S-9, ; 9.55 X 6.42 X 1.23 inches; 360 pages.

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Overview

"You will not be allowed to leave this country, no matter how many times you try." The colonel from the Soviet Ministry of Internal Affairs did not look up at me as he spoke....
"Why not?" I asked. "What are your reasons?"
"We don't have to give you an explanation," he replied. "It is not in our interests to let you go. There is nothing to discuss," he said, dismissing me.
—From the Prologue

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.

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Editorial Reviews

Choice - C. W. Haury

"Mary Mackler Leder was by no means a significant figure in Stalinist Russia, but readers will find that she writes an arresting observer's account of life in Russia over more than two decades. Sovietologists of the Stalinist era will find interesting anecdotes about Soviet life that confirm, revise, and in some cases authenticate the constructed sociology of the time. One example that constantly reappears is Leder's insistence on stating that she is an American, while the authorities both high and low, all across the Soviet Union, simply classify her as Jewish, with all the usual and stereotypical ramifications of that view. Two particular periods of the account are noteworthy—those about the purges in the 1930s and the war years, during which time her baby daughter died. Perhaps most remarkable is Leder's ability to recall her past with exquisite detail and precision so many years beyond the events. Upper-division undergraduates and above." —C. W. Haury, Piedmont Virginia Community College, Choice, January 2002

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In the depths of the Depression, Leder's parents, socialist, Russian-born Jewish immigrants, decided to take their family from the U.S. to the Soviet Union to help colonize a proposed Jewish homeland in Birobidzhan. Once arrived in a rural village in the Soviet Far East in 1931, Mary, a 15-year-old who shared her parents' politics, was appalled at the primitive living conditions and insisted on going to Moscow, where she began working at a factory with the help of her step-uncle. When her disillusioned parents returned to the U.S. two years later, Mary was unable to go with them: she had become a Soviet citizen because she had needed an internal passport to keep her job. In this engrossing memoir, Leder (Sonia's Daughters) recounts the 34 years she lived in the U.S.S.R., working at a motor factory, then as proofreader, editor and translator at the Foreign Workers' Publishing House. While attending the University of Moscow, she was recruited into a secret spy school, which folded during the Great Purge Trials. She married, had a child who died during the evacuation of Moscow during WWII and was constantly under surveillance as a foreigner. Leder has a marvelous memory for the details of everyday life, from living arrangements and survival during the terror to discussions of the law forbidding abortion in 1936 and the marriage "reform" law reintroducing illegitimacy in 1944, as well as for the many friends she made. She was particularly aware of the growing anti-Semitism after WWII, and that, coupled with her husband's death in the late 1950s, prompted her strenuous efforts to return to the U.S. in the 1960s. This plainly written account will particularly appeal t0 readers with a general interest in women's memoirs, Russian culture and history, and leftist politics. 8-page photo insert. (Mar.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
The thoughtful memoirs of a disillusioned daughter of the Russian Revolution. Leder's parents, Jews from the Ukraine, had emigrated to the US before the Revolution. They returned in 1931, convinced that Stalin's promise of a socialist Jewish homeland would become an earthly paradise, and they took their 15-year-old daughter Mary (née Mackler) with them. Birobidzhan, the vaunted Red Jerusalem, turned out to be not much of a place; the commune to which the Macklers were assigned could not produce enough food to feed itself, the result less of an unforgiving climate than of deception and corruption brought on by a privileged caste of Communist Party officials who took the bulk of the harvest for themselves. The author's parents eventually gave up in disgust and were allowed to return to the US-but young Mary was not. Instead, after relocating to Moscow, she was assigned to a branch of TASS to work as an editor and translator, her every comma examined for political correctness and her every typo examined for counterrevolutionary implications. Her life in Moscow, which she recounts in vivid detail, was a succession of daily indignities punctuated by episodes of political terror; added to this burden was the Russian tradition of anti-Semitism, which, though officially illegal, was still practiced in ways large and small. (Any Jew who ran a business, for example, no matter how poor, was classified as "petty bourgeois" and thus considered politically suspect; and whereas "American" was not an officially recognized nationality, "Jewish" was.) The author did not allow these slights to pass unchallenged, and in these pages she reveals herself to have been a spirited fighter, unafraid ofassertingher rights to a succession of Soviet bureaucrats who must have been glad to see her go-when, after 30 years, she was finally allowed to return to the US. A sometimes astonishing, worm's-eye view of life under totalitarianism, and a valuable contribution to Soviet and Jewish studies.
From the Publisher
"Mary Mackler Leder was by no means a significant figure in Stalinist Russia, but readers will find that she writes an arresting observer's account of life in Russia over more than two decades. Sovietologists of the Stalinist era will find interesting anecdotes about Soviet life that confirm, revise, and in some cases authenticate the constructed sociology of the time. One example that constantly reappears is Leder's insistence on stating that she is an American, while the authorities both high and low, all across the Soviet Union, simply classify her as Jewish, with all the usual and stereotypical ramifications of that view. Two particular periods of the account are noteworthy—those about the purges in the 1930s and the war years, during which time her baby daughter died. Perhaps most remarkable is Leder's ability to recall her past with exquisite detail and precision so many years beyond the events. Upper-division undergraduates and above." —C. W. Haury, Piedmont Virginia Community College, Choice, January 2002
Choice
"Mary Mackler Leder was by no means a significant figure in Stalinist Russia, but readers will find that she writes an arresting observer's account of life in Russia over more than two decades. Sovietologists of the Stalinist era will find interesting anecdotes about Soviet life that confirm, revise, and in some cases authenticate the constructed sociology of the time. One example that constantly reappears is Leder's insistence on stating that she is an American, while the authorities both high and low, all across the Soviet Union, simply classify her as Jewish, with all the usual and stereotypical ramifications of that view. Two particular periods of the account are noteworthy—those about the purges in the 1930s and the war years, during which time her baby daughter died. Perhaps most remarkable is Leder's ability to recall her past with exquisite detail and precision so many years beyond the events. Upper-division undergraduates and above." —C. W. Haury, Piedmont Virginia Community College, Choice, January 2002

— C. W. Haury, Piedmont Virginia Community College

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780253338662
  • Publisher: Indiana University Press
  • Publication date: 12/1/2001
  • Pages: 360
  • Product dimensions: 6.12 (w) x 9.25 (h) x 1.23 (d)

Meet the Author

Mary M. Leder has lived in New York since her return from the Soviet Union in 1965.

Laurie Bernstein is Associate Professor of History at Rutgers University, Camden, and author of Sonia’s Daughters: Prostitutes and Their Regulation in Imperial Russia.

Robert Weinberg is Associate Professor of History at Swarthmore College. He is author of The Revolution of 1905 in Odessa: Blood on the Steps and Stalin’s Forgotten Zion: Birobidzhan and The Making of a Soviet Jewish Homeland.

Indiana University Press

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Table of Contents

Introduction by Laurie Bernstein and Robert Weinberg
Prologue
1. My Family Leaves for the Soviet Union—1931
2. Birobidzhan—1931
3. Settling in Moscow—1931 to 1932
4. The Factory and the Commune—The Winter of 1931/1932
5. A Teenager in Moscow—Spring 1932
6. My Parents Leave—Summer of 1932 to Summer of 1933
7. Americans and Other Foreigners in Moscow—1933 to 1934
8. A Biology Student at Moscow University—1934 to 1935
9. A History Student at Moscow University—1935 to 1936
10. At the Commissariat of Defense—November 1936 to March 1938
11. Purges and the Publishing House—Spring 1938 to Winter 1939
12. Newlyweds—Winter 1939 to Summer 1941
13. The Outbreak of War—1941
14. Evacuation from Moscow and Return—Fall 1941 to Spring 1942
15. TASS and Moscow University—1942 to 1946
16. Berlin—1946
17. Postwar Moscow—1947
18. Postwar Anti-Semitism—1948 to 1950
19. Respite—1950
20. During Stalin's Final Years—1950 to 1953
Suggestions for Further Reading
Index
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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 28, 2005

    Accurate history with a human touch

    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.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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