Soul to Soul: The Story of a Black Russian American Family, 1865-1992

Soul to Soul: The Story of a Black Russian American Family, 1865-1992

by Yelena Khanga, Susan Jacoby

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
With freelance writer Jacoby, Russian journalist Khanga offers a competent account of an unusual heritage. Her maternal grandparents were American Communists who in 1931 moved from New York City to Soviet Uzbekistan to develop a cotton industry: her grandfather, Oliver Golden, was black and the son of a slave; and her grandmother, Warsaw-born Bertha Bialek Golden, was the Jewish daughter of a Hebrew-school teacher and garment worker. Khanga's mother, Lily Golden, became the first scholar at the African Institute of the Soviet Academy of Sciences, which Khrushchev created at the suggestion of Golden family friend W.E.B. Du Bois. Khanga's father, Abdullah, was an African independence leader who treated Lily like a traditional Muslim wife, locking her inside the home when he went out; in 1965 he was assassinated by political opponents in his native Zanzibar. Khanga describes the pitfalls of growing up in white, anti-American Soviet society, her reporting stints at a Moscow News revolutionized by glasnost and her work as an exchange journalist at the Christian Science Monitor in Boston. In America, she travels the country and finds her Bialek and Golden relatives. She is opinionated about American racism and reactions to African Americans, but, given her dual heritage, her treatments of African American anti-Semitism and American Jewry are curiously cursory. Photos not seen by PW. (Oct.)
Donna Seaman
Glasnost and the break-up of the Soviet Union have changed the lives of millions of people, but few can match the cross-cultural drama and revelation freedom has brought Yelena Khanga. A young, black journalist, Yelena describes herself as "Russian to the core," yet she has always been different, always separate because of her complex, foreign heritage and dark skin. For most of her life in Tashkent and Moscow, the only other black woman Yelena knew was her mother. Once she was able to visit the U.S., a buried part of her soul was finally defined and connected. Khanga's unusual family history is a microcosm of twentieth-century politics and cultural issues. Oliver Golden, her maternal grandfather, was an African American agronomist, the great-grandson of a slave turned landowner. Her maternal grandmother, Bertha Bialek, was a Polish Jew who had immigrated to America 10 years before she met Oliver in 1927; she was disowned by her family for loving a black man. American Communists, they moved to the Soviet Union to be free of segregation and discrimination. Their daughter, Lily, Yelena's mother, married a politician from Zanzibar, but he was murdered while Yelena was still an infant. So Yelena was raised by her white, widowed grandmother and her black, widowed mother. With magnetic grace and candor, Khanga describes the experience of growing up black in white Soviet Russia, with no access to reliable information about Americans, especially African Americans. Now that she's lived in both cultures, Khanga is eloquent on the subject of Russian and American forms of racism, anti-Semitism, and sexism and able to characterize the mental habits of prejudice with unfailing veracity. Hers is a remarkable tale of the cyclic nature of history and the enduring value of integrity, pride, and love.

Product Details

Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.37(w) x 9.50(h) x 1.23(d)

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