Part Soviet history, part family biography, Alex Halberstadt’s Young Heroes of the Soviet Union: A Memoir and a Reckoning is a thought-provoking look at how trauma can echo down generations. For Halberstadt, born in Moscow in the 1970s, the past has always hung over his family’s lives like an ever-present specter. His paternal grandfather was one of Stalin’s last surviving bodyguards and a major in the KGB, a job that made him culpable in some of the brutal crimes carried out by the State. Halberstadt’s maternal grandparents were Lithuanian Jews who escaped being killed by the Nazis, but lost almost all of their loved ones during the war. Halberstadt intersperses his family account with broader interludes about Russian history that reveal how the country’s turbulent past continues to impact Russians to this day.
Young Heroes of the Soviet Union is an eye-opening read, not only for the insight it gives into Russian history and society, but also because Halberstadt poses the same question to the reader that he asked himself while digging into his family’s past: can events from our family history still have a hold over us even decades after they occurred? Reading about Halberstadt’s family helped me to better understand my own family’s history, and to understand that genealogy isn’t just names and dates on a family tree, or even just the physical traits passed from generation to generation--it’s also the way our ancestors’ experiences can shape who we are in almost intangible ways. Anyone with an interest in history (especially Russian history), World War II, or genealogy might also find much to learn from this book.
-Sara, Reference Librarian