In This Review

Young Heroes of the Soviet Union: A Memoir and a Reckoning
Young Heroes of the Soviet Union: A Memoir and a Reckoning
By Alex Halberstadt
320 pp, Random House, 2020

Halberstadt was a child when he immigrated to the United States from the Soviet Union with his Jewish mother. In a pattern common to young American writers of foreign descent, he began to feel the irresistible draw of “the old country” as he grew older. As an adult, he returned to Russia to search for his family roots and to repair ties with his father. Over the course of the journey, related in this memoir, he describes the barbarities of Stalin’s bloody regime as well as the extermination of Jews by the Nazis and their enthusiastic collaborators in Lithuania and Ukraine, the two places his family came from. He meets his paternal grandfather, a member of Stalin’s secret police and likely an executioner himself. To a Russian ear, Halberstadt’s stories sound conventional and even a bit clichéd: his descriptions of Soviet poverty, humiliating shortages, pervasive censorship, ubiquitous lies, and the late Soviet infatuation with Western pop culture are all familiar. A Russian reader is sure to catch a few inaccuracies. In the end, during a quiet fishing trip in a faraway Russian province, the author develops a kind of awkward affection for his father. He does not become any more Russian, but he leaves Russia a wiser man.