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Leaving Leningrad
The True Adventures of a Soviet Emigre
Ludmila Shtern

HBI Series on Jewish Women

2001 • 152 pp. 6 x 9"
Jewish Studies / Memoir / Women's Studies / Cold War Studies

Sorry—this item is Out of Print

"An exceptional storyteller, Shtern chooses perfect anecdotes that connect readers to Tatyana's character and growth while providing rich social background and commentary on both Soviet and American life. Best of all, Shtern is hilarious. Her comedy is wry, brash, tinged with neuroticism, and self-deprecating, and it almost always serves to illuminate larger truths her recounted struggle to impress her future husband with romantic extravagances and rare books gives readers an almost cinematic glimpse of 1960s Leningrad. Readers will delight in Shtern's outrageous, intelligent wit in stories that illuminate, through her specific Soviet history, the increasingly common experience of resettling across borders."—Booklist

A nostalgic and humorous memoir of life under communism and capitalism.

Although women writers have held a conspicuous place in the history of modern Russian literature, they have been slow to find their true voices in exile. Ludmila Shtern, a geologist/writer who emigrated to the US from the Soviet Union in 1975, offers a completely fresh, unsentimental look at daily life in the former Soviet Union and the US in the second half of the 20th century. Her memoir, part comic bildungsroman, part picaresque adventure, shows its heroine, Tatyana Dargis, growing up in the USSR, falling in love, falling afoul of the KGB, and finally emigrating to the US where new absurdities (capitalist rather than communist in nature) prevail.

An amalgam of bittersweet understatement and mordant wit, Shtern's prose is shaped by her ear for a wide range of human voices and the stories they tell, and by her eye for the grotesqueries and savagely funny pain of modern life. The late Joseph Brodsky, hailing Shtern as "an accomplished stylist" and "a talented humorist," said, "Ms. Shtern has a sharp eye for the telling details of contemporary Russian life . . . The light touch of her satire and her sustained wit are impressive and a pleasure to read."

Whether running the bureaucratic obstacle course required for permission to visit Paris or buying a car she can't afford simply because her number came up on a waiting list; whether coping with the intrigues of neighbors in an overcrowded Leningrad apartment or enduring that quintessentially American experience, a self-actualization workshop, Shtern maintains a cheerful sense of irony (even when most depressed) and offers through her personal transit from one life to the next, a tight, witty social history of the two world powers at the end of the Cold War.

From the Book:

"The lock clicked and again I found myself in the dark corridor lined with iron-plated doors. I didn't feel like returning to my office. Instead, I took a walk, trying to make up my mind about two things. First, should I or should I not do the KGB any favors? On the one hand, my professional career was in jeopardy. On the other, did they really need Ula badly enough to ruin my whole life? Second, how serious was the captain's warning to keep my mouth shut? I had to talk to someone, but not to my family. My husband and my mother, like the vast majority of the Soviet people, have always been paranoid about any encounters with the KGB, and my story could cause a couple of heart attacks in the family. But I desperately needed to talk to someone who knew how to handle this situation, to someone who could give me sober advice."

LUDMILA SHTERN, the daughter of a Leningrad University law professor and an actress, began writing early. Rather than pursue a career in literature, however, she instead became a geologist, a profession less risky than that of author in the post-Stalinist Soviet Union. In 1975 she emigrated to the US, where she has worked in geology, real estate, and public relations. She has published widely in Russian, Italian, Hungarian, and English in such publications as Pequod, Boston Globe Magazine, and Condé Nast Traveler. Her work has been reviewed in Time, Le Monde, La Pensée Russe, Slavic Review, Harvard Advocate, and Moscow Times. Ms. Shtern has lectured throughout the US on women in Russia and contemporary Russian art and literature and appeared as a guest on Public Television and New England Cable News on political topics. She is Resident Scholar in Women's Studies at Brandeis University and hosts a weekly program on WMNB, the Russian-American Broadcasting Company.

Sun, 18 Nov 2018 13:48:51 -0500