Many years after making his way to America from Odessa in Soviet Ukraine, Emil Draitser made a startling discovery: every time he uttered the word "Jewish"—even in casual conversation—he lowered his voice. This behavior was a natural by-product, he realized, of growing up in the anti-Semitic, post-Holocaust Soviet Union, when "Shush!" was the most frequent word he heard: "Don't use your Jewish name in public. Don't speak a word of Yiddish. And don't cry over your murdered relatives." This compelling memoir conveys the reader back to Draitser's childhood and provides a unique account of midtwentieth-century life in Russia as the young Draitser struggles to reconcile the harsh values of Soviet society with the values of his working-class Jewish family. Lively, evocative, and rich with humor, this unforgettable story ends with the death of Stalin and, through life stories of the author's ancestors, presents a sweeping panorama of two centuries of Jewish history in Russia.
notes on languages and translation
1 How I Failed My Motherland
2 Fathers at War
3 Path to Paradise
4 What’s in a Name!
5 Black Shawl
6 Us Against Them
7 I Don’t Want to Have Relatives!
8 Friends and Enemies
9 The Girl of My Dreams
10 How They Laugh in Odessa
11 Papa and the Soviets
12 A Dependent
13 Without Declarations
14 Who’s Who
15 A Strange Orange
16 Who Are You?
17 One Passover in Odessa
18 On Commissars, Cosmopolites, and Lightbulb Inventors
20 No Kith, No Kin
21 Grandpa Uri
22 Missing Mikhoels
23 Black on White
24 Time Like Glass
25 The Death of Stalin
My Genealogical Tree
Emil Draitser is Professor of Russian at Hunter College of the City University of New York. In addition to his twelve books, his work has also appeared in the Los Angeles Times, the Partisan Review and the North American Review.
"Emil Draitser is authentic and honestly self-critical, while also full of humor and warmth. Shush! is a great tribute to the tenacity of a people who kept their identity and loyalty intact even when threatened with dire consequences."—Irena Grudzinska Gross, author of The Scar of Revolution
"A wonderfully evocative memoir of childhood and adolescence during one of the most tragic epochs in Russian history. As grim as the historical background of the memoir is, the mood is redeemed by Draitser's perfectly Odessan Jewish humor, sad yet optimistic, compared with that of another great Odessan, Isaak Babel."—Lara Vapnyar, author of There are Jews in My House and Memoirs of a Muse
"Emil Draitser resurrects the world of his Jewish childhood in the Soviet Union touchingly and with a great sense of humor, a truly rare quality."—Solomon Volkov, author of Shostakovich and Stalin and The Magical Chorus: A History of Russian Culture from Tolstoy to Solzhenitsyn
"Emil Draitser's memoir tells me, adroitly and movingly, more about being a child in Stalin's Russia than all the fiction and nonfiction I had read before put together. His work has worldwide appeal."—David Westheimer, author of Von Ryan's Express and Death is Lighter than a Feather
"A poignant and gripping book. . . . A compelling memoir. . . . A sweeping panorama of the Jewish history in Russia, this richly documented work is a remarkable humanitarian contribution and a challenge to the continued silence in Russia surrounding its persecution of Jews. The volume touches a nerve and is written with a depth of feeling. The reader will appreciate the skilled craftsmanship that elevates Draitser's perfect gem of a memoir to fine literature."—Notes on Contemporary Literature
"Vivid and engaging. . . .The most moving episodes are concerned with Draitser's coming to terms with his Jewish identity. . . . Elegantly and warmly written, this volume will be of interest to scholars exploring Jewish life in the Soviet period. . . . Despite the dramatic nature of the material, the stories are told with humor. A welcome addition to curricula in Russian culture, as well as for Jewish studies, sociology, history, and psychology."—Slavic and East European Journal
"Rich in minute observations, psychological insights, and vivid descriptions."—World Literature Today
“An intimate account of an extraordinarily difficult period in Jewish history, written with such erudition, elegance, texture, and humor. This immensely enjoyable book makes a consequential -- and little understood -- era come alive through the prism of the author’s personal experience and enviable writing style. One can only hope that this book will receive the large audience it so richly deserves.” --David A. Harris, Executive Director, American Jewish Committee
Members receive 20-40% discounts on book purchases. Find out more