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  • Published: 6 August 2020
  • ISBN: 9781407075006
  • Imprint: Vintage Digital
  • Format: EBook
  • Pages: 320

Young Heroes of the Soviet Union

A Memoir and a Reckoning




In this luminous memoir of identity, exile, ancestry and reckoning, Alex Halberstadt returns to Russia to face a family history that still haunts him.

Can trauma be inherited? It is this question that sets Alex Halberstadt off on a quest to name and acknowledge a legacy of family trauma, and to end a cycle of estrangement that had endured for nearly a century.

His search takes him across the troubled, enigmatic land of his birth. In Ukraine he tracks down his paternal grandfather - most likely the last living bodyguard of Joseph Stalin - to reckon with the ways in which decades of Soviet totalitarianism shaped and fractured three generations of his family. He returns to Lithuania, his Jewish mother's home, to revisit the legacy of the Holocaust and the pernicious anti-Semitism that remains largely unaccounted for, learning that the boundary between history and biography is often fragile and indistinct. And he visits his birthplace, Moscow, where his glamorous grandmother designed homespun couture for Soviet ministers' wives, his mother dosed dissidents at a psychiatric hospital, and his father made a living by selling black-market jazz and rock records.

Finally, Halberstadt explores his own story: that of a fatherless immigrant who arrived in America, to a housing project in Queens, New York, as a ten-year-old boy struggling with identity, feelings of rootlessness and a yearning for home. He comes to learn that he was merely the latest in a lineage of sons who grew up alone, separated from their fathers by the tides of politics and history.

As Halberstadt revisits the sites of his family's formative traumas, he uncovers a multigenerational transmission of fear, suspicion, melancholy, and rage. And he comes to realize something more: nations, like people, possess formative traumas that penetrate into the most private recesses of their citizens' lives.

  • Published: 6 August 2020
  • ISBN: 9781407075006
  • Imprint: Vintage Digital
  • Format: EBook
  • Pages: 320

About the author

Alex Halberstadt

Alex Halberstadt is the author of the award-winning Lonely Avenue: The Unlikely Life and Times of Doc Pomus. His writing has appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, GQ and The Paris Review. He is a two-time James Beard Award nominee and a recipient of fellowships from the MacDowell Colony and Yaddo. He works and lives in New York.

Praise for Young Heroes of the Soviet Union

A loving and mournful account that’s also skeptical, surprising and often very funny… It’s the unexpected specificity of Halberstadt’s observations that ultimately make this memoir as lush and moving as it is.

Jennifer Szalai, New York Times

Alex Halberstadt is a magnificent writer. Young Heroes of the Soviet Union is a beautiful book about trauma and its impact on one extraordinary family, and an incisive, radiant look at the long legacy of suffering and war.

Olivia Laing

In this urgent and enthralling reckoning with family and history, Alex Halberstadt describes the disjunction between his Soviet childhood and his American adolescence with incandescent wit, a sometimes bitter but always compelling nostalgia, and great literary flair. This book is a triumph over the shame he experienced as he was growing up, and a narrative of his struggle against steep odds to become a whole person.

Andrew Solomon

Reading Young Heroes of the Soviet Union is an immersion in waters of profound depth and bracing lambency. The light glows in the quiet acuity of the prose. And it shines on vast and dire patterns that transcend the merely personal—the unfathomable hardships that nations and families inflict on people, and how we endure. This truly excellent book will transform your understanding of what memoir can do.

Wells Tower

I remember being in a bar with Alex Halberstadt almost twenty years ago, talking about our families, when he said, "Did I ever tell you my grandfather was Stalin’s bodyguard?" He hadn’t. I suggested that he write a book about it. Not in my most hopeful imaginings could that book have turned out to be as surprising, sad, funny, and engrossing as the one he wrote. This is history as memoir, and vice versa. Describing Russia in the twentieth century as a place where "the buffer between history and biography became nearly imperceptible," he made me feel how this is true of all places, for all of us.

John Jeremiah Sullivan

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