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De familie Slepak - kroniek van een russisch…

De familie Slepak - kroniek van een russisch dissidentengezin (original 1996; edition 1996)

by Chaim Potok

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299537,504 (3.87)14
Title:De familie Slepak - kroniek van een russisch dissidentengezin
Authors:Chaim Potok
Info:Uitgeverij BZZTôH - 's Gravenhage
Collections:Your library
Tags:jewish, jewish literature, signed by the author

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The Gates of November by Chaim Potok (1996)



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This was a great book, no surprise coming from Chaim Potok. It's incredibly informative, covering nearly a century of Russian/Soviet (political) history, centered around three generations of one particular family - the Slepaks.

In some places the years jumped around a bit- presumably due to putting the book together from audio accounts made by the family, and trying to fit pieces together nicely. It wasn't a big problem or anything, but it was a smidge confusing when most of it is chronological, and then something would be mentioned that was a little into the future/past. An editor should have slipped those where they went, or worked with Potok to rearrange things somewhat so they fit in better. As is, there's a few little things where it could be just a wee bit hard to keep the time-line straight there. But since it was pretty much minor things, it's not a big issue, and doesn't change the fact that this was a fabulous account of a truly inspirational family.

The book painted a clear picture of Russia in times past, and of the struggle of the Slepak family, who are clearly intelligent, strong-willed people. I would highly recommended this to anyone. ( )
  .Monkey. | Sep 6, 2012 |
In January, 1985, Chaim Potok and his wife traveled to Moscow specifically to visit Vladimir (Volodya) and Maria (Masha) Slepak, dissident (“refuseniks” Russian Jews who had achieved international fame for their nearly 20 year effort to emigrate to Israel. There were other well-known refuseniks, as well Russian dissidents protesting the brutality of life under various Soviet regimes, but Volodya and Masha represented a special case: Volodya’s father, Solomon Slepak, was on Old Bolshevik, one of the original revolutionaries who fount against the tsar and then on the side of the Communists in the Russian Civil War. Solomon, a fanatic Bolshevik who refused to see anything wrong with the Soviet system and who was an enthusiastic supporter of Stalin, had achieved fairly high rank under the Communist system. But when Stalin began consolidating power, he turned on everyone, including his most loyal supporters; almost all were either executed or disappeared. The central mystery, as Potok says, is why Solomon was never included in Stalin’s purges of the 1930s. Thus Volodya and Masha occupied a special place within the dissident community. The Potoks spent a great deal of time with the Slepak family, recording and transcribing a massive amount of information about the Slepak family in general and Volodya and Masha’s lives in particular.

Potok starts the book’s history with what is known, from family chronicles, about Solomon’s life. Born at the turn of the 20th century to a poor teacher of Jewish children in Dubrovno, on the Dnieper, Solomon experienced from early on the violent Russian anti-Semitism. At age 13, he ran away from home; in the next two decades, he managed to work his way across Europe to live in America; when the Russian Revolution unfolded, Solomon made his way back to Russian where he commanded troops in the Civil War.

Potok follows Solomon’s career as an unofficial Soviet diplomat who spent a great deal of time abroad, mainly in China. Volodya spent a good part of his childhood in China, recalling that as a happy time. Up through his young adulthood, Volodya’s life was a fairly contented one as the child of a member of the Russian elite, attending the best schools and living a life of privilege.

So why did this son of a dedicated Bolshevik turn against his own country losing nearly everything--losing comfortable and important jobs, freedom (he and Masha spent 5 years in exile in Siberia), and risking their lives in a terrible effort to emigrate to Israel?

The answer to that in Potok’s books is a brief history of the Russian Revolution as well as the Russian attitude towards the Jews. There is a great deal about Stalin and his policies, of the attitudes of the dictators who came afterwards, and of the craziness of Soviet policies and procedures. The book contains a wealth of information about Russian dissidents, the Jewish dissident movement, and the reaction of foreign powers to the condition of Russian Jewry at that time.

The book is extremely well written, flowing easily as a narrative, thanks to Potok’s skill in writing fiction. It is quietly factual, never shrill, always focusing on the lives of the people who worked so hard for their own independence. It is never ideological; it keeps true to Volodya and Masha themselves, and that is its greatest strength.

Potok ends the book with the questions: from where does one get the courage to risk annihilation, as he puts it, in order to resist a despotic regime? Would I have the ability to do the same? These, of course, are unanswerable, but perfectly valid anyway, given the story Potok has just narrated.

Highly recommended. ( )
2 vote Joycepa | Jun 6, 2011 |
A concise, highly readable history of Russia in the 20th century, told from the generational perspective of Solomon Slepak, an "Old Bolshevik" who somehow managed to avoid being purged in the Stalin years, while never giving up his dream of a perfect Communist society; and his son, Vladimir, a refusenik who suffered all the usual hardships inflicted on Jewish dissenters through the Soviet years while repeatedly being turned down for permission to emigrate to Israel. Fascinating, enlightening and highly recommended.

From Potok's epilogue: "Can we learn something from these chronicles about iron righteousness and rigid doctrine, about the stony heart, the sealed mind, the capricious use of law, and the tragedies that often result when theories are not adjusted to realities?" ( )
1 vote laytonwoman3rd | Feb 13, 2011 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Chaim Potokprimary authorall editionscalculated
Cramer, PieterTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 044991240X, Paperback)

Potok, well known for his novels of Jewish family life such as The Chosen, turns to nonfiction in The Gates of November, a wrenching family chronicle with a riveting historical undercurrent. The story of the family patriarch, Solomon Slepak, spans most of the book: ignoring his mother's wish that he become a rabbi, Slepak emigrated at 13 to America, became a Marxist in New York, returned to fight in the Russian Revolution, and rose to prominence within the Communist Party. But while Solomon remained a convinced Bolshevik, his son Volodya rejected socialism when anti-Semitism emerged during Stalin's era. Disowned by his father, Volodya was later exiled to Siberia as a dissident. The story of the Slepaks is simultaneously the story of Soviet Jewry and the rise and fall of the Soviet Union.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:08:36 -0400)

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