A Novel about Three Generations of Jews Caught up in Soviet and Post-Soviet Russia

Sana Krasikov’s The Patriots begins with the story of Florence, an American Jew who, as a starry-eyed young woman committed to the workers’ revolution, leaves Brooklyn in 1934 for the Soviet Union. By the time it becomes clear that the Soviet Union isn’t the utopia-in-the-making she expected, the authorities forbid her from leaving. Florence loses her husband in one of Stalin’s purges, does a stint in the Gulag, and, decades later, returns to America with her son in an early Soviet-Jewish exodus. Krasikov eventually has Florence’s son and grandson end up in Putin-era Russia where they get swept up in a new sort of madness. In his review, A.E. Smith points to the historical realities at the book’s heart:

The irony implicit in The Patriots is that while many Jews embraced the Russian revolutionary cause from the very beginning—four of the seven members of the first Bolshevik Politburo were Jews—the revolution did not embrace them for long. For Russian Jews, the revolution represented liberation from centuries of tsarist oppression. For diaspora Jews such as Florence and her husband, it held out the promise of a just society in which all people—workers and peasants, Jews and Gentiles—would at last be equal. What they didn’t reckon with was the deep vein of anti-Semitism undergirding Russian culture and Russian history. It wasn’t excised in the great changes that birthed the USSR, merely disguised, and not particularly well. . . .

Krasikov’s meditation on patriotism and belonging, on compromise and guilt, echoes the great Russian voices—Vasily Grossman, Osip and Nadezhda Mandelstam, Anna Akhmatova, Varlam Shalamov, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn—who chronicled their almost unimaginable times, but who are now largely forgotten. . . .

The Patriots could easily have been a polemic. Instead, Krasikov chooses to evoke the unutterable sadness of the last century of Russian history, so intimately bound up with Jewish history. Krasikov’s Russia, a country she clearly knows well and loves deeply, has survived revolution, war, Stalin, and the leaden stagnation of the Brezhnev years, only to find itself run by an interchangeable cast of gangsters, grifters, and, once again, secret policemen.

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More about: Arts & Culture, Jewish literature, Russia, Soviet Jewry, Soviet Union

No, Israelis and Palestinians Can’t Simply Sit Down and Solve the “Israel-Palestinian Conflict”

Jan. 17 2019

By “zooming out” from the blinkered perspective with which most Westerners see the affairs of the Jewish state, argues Matti Friedman, one can begin to see things the way Israelis do:

Many [in Israel] believe that an agreement signed by a Western-backed Palestinian leader in the West Bank won’t end the conflict, because it will wind up creating not a state but a power vacuum destined to be filled by intra-Muslim chaos, or Iranian proxies, or some combination of both. That’s exactly what has happened . . . in Gaza, Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq. One of Israel’s nightmares is that the fragile monarchy in Jordan could follow its neighbors . . . into dissolution and into Iran’s orbit, which would mean that if Israel doesn’t hold the West Bank, an Iranian tank will be able to drive directly from Tehran to the outskirts of Tel Aviv. . . .

In the “Israeli-Palestinian” framing, with all other regional components obscured, an Israeli withdrawal in the West Bank seems like a good idea—“like a real-estate deal,” in President Trump’s formulation—if not a moral imperative. And if the regional context were peace, as it was in Northern Ireland, for example, a power vacuum could indeed be filled by calm.

But anyone using a wider lens sees that the actual context here is a complex, multifaceted war, or a set of linked wars, devastating this part of the world. The scope of this conflict is hard to grasp in fragmented news reports but easy to see if you pull out a map and look at Israel’s surroundings, from Libya through Syria and Iraq to Yemen.

The fault lines have little to do with Israel. They run between dictators and the people they’ve been oppressing for generations; between progressives and medievalists; between Sunnis and Shiites; between majority populations and minorities. If [Israel’s] small sub-war were somehow resolved, or even if Israel vanished tonight, the Middle East would remain the same volatile place it is now.

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More about: Hizballah, Iran, Israel & Zionism, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, Middle East