An Absorbing and Elegiac Look Behind the Iron Curtain

Editor's Note: Elena Gorokhova grew up in St. Petersburg, Russia, although for most of her life it was known to her as Leningrad. At the age of twenty-four she married an American and came to the United States with only a twenty kilogram suitcase to start a new life. She is the bestselling author of the memoirs, A Mountain of Crumbs and Russian Tattoo.

Zhivago’s Children catapulted me back into the world of my Leningrad childhood. Before settling in New Jersey, I grew up among the Soviet intelligentsia: the poets, actors, and bards whose lives are examined in this well-researched and nuanced volume by Vladislav Zubok, a Russian émigré. These artists and writers were often my only escape from the grinding grayness that was our constant reality in the Soviet Union. It was a place that had isolated itself from the world, “a country of closed borders and captive minds” where foreign travel was unimaginable. Yet despite the risks, there were a few who were able to break loose from the trap of Soviet indoctrination and become “a vibrant and diverse tribe, with intellectual curiosity, artistic yearnings, and a passion for high culture.” They were able to see beyond the Soviet mentality—the collective communist brine we had all been marinating in since nursery school—and open their minds to “humanist individualism.”

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A Literary and Deeply Personal Mystery

Horror novels, to the extent they are reflexively identified in negative terms, are thought to be defined by their limitations. Thin characters must be sacrificed to drooling monsters with the regularity of a Swiss train schedule. Themes must be loudly telegraphed. Subtlety doesn’t get past the tattooed bouncer at the…

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