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Two Babushkas: How My Grandmothers Survived Hitler's War and Stalin's Peace [Hardcover]

Masha Gessen

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Book Description

3 May 2004
Journalist Masha Gessen's last memory of Russia was the crowd of red-eyed relatives gathered at the airport in Moscow in 1981 to wave goodbye forever to her 14-year-old self, her brother and her parents. Unwilling to have their children grow up bearing the weight of the same anti-Semitism that they and their parents had, Masha's mother and father were emigrating to America. But Russia was Masha's home and 10 years later she returned to a changed country, and to her two grandmothers. With intelligence and humour Masha Gessen unfolds the tale of these two women: both Eastern European Jews who lived through Polish and Russian anti-Semitism, the Second World War, the Holocaust, and the Stalin years and who bore unceasing intimidation and fear in very different ways but with similar courage, resourcefulness and sheer chutzpah. As Masha traces the characters, struggles, love affairs and families of Ester, confident and reckless, and Rosalia, sensitive and responsible, the story of twentieth-century Russia and its people, the Jews, their friends and their enemies, emerges. And so does Masha Gessen's own story, itself a modern myth of exile and return.

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"Beautifully written and deeply felt." -- Anne Applebaum, author of Gulag: A History

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This is the story of two women, best friends from the moment they met in 1950, who are forced by chance and circumstance to make hard choices in Stalin’s Russia. On became a censor, a reluctant pawn in the soviet regime, the other a dissident who defied the authorities and risked her own life as well as her mother’s for the sake of her principles.

Masha Gessen, Ester and Rozalia were not hostages to history, but her beloved grandmothers. When her parents emigrated to the USA in 1981 to escape the discrimination that Jews faced in the USSR, Masha did not know if she would ever see her grandmothers again. But ten years later, when she returned to Moscow as a young journalist, Ester and Rozalia were there to meet her at the airport. And in the years that followed, it was their stories that helped her to understand what it meant to have lived through the cataclysmic upheavals of the second world war, the Holocaust and Stalin’s Terror, Both women lost the men they loved in the fighting, both were Jews under an increasingly anti-Semitic regime, and both were gifted linguists. And yet these close friends, whose children would eventually marry, made very different choices in response to their circumstances – choices that were barely choices at all.

Told with wit and sympathy, the story of these two remarkable women’s elusive search for a decent compromise becomes both the complex and terrifying story of Russia in the twentieth century and provides the setting for Masha Gessen’s own modern myth of exile and return.

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Amazon.com: 5.0 out of 5 stars  1 review
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars So true! 19 April 2012
By Olga - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I first read this book having borrowed it from my public library. Loved it so much, that went and bought it twice (the other edition is titled "Ester and Ruzya", but it is the same book) and gave one to my mother who also loved it. Full disclosure: we are both Jewish refugees, formerly from Moscow, having lived in the US 30 years (me) and 20 yrs (my mother), so many parts of the story were directly related to our own family and our personal histories. Gessen's book reads like a thriller, cannot put it down. Heartily recommend along with her other non-fiction "thriller" "Blood matters"
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