Category Archives: Book News

Nice Things

I’ve been so wrapped up in the whirlwind of book promotion, including a tour you can find out more about here.

And there is such a roller coaster quality to this particular moment — days when things seem to be going so well and the book is getting all the attention I’d always hoped for alternating with other days when I feel overwhelmed by how hard it is to try and launch a book out into the world.

There have certainly been plenty of nice moments, however, including this wonderful essay in Harper’s by David Bezmozgis, a writer for whom I have great respect (check out his much acclaimed book of short stories, Natasha; he also has a novel coming out this spring which touches on the refusenik experience).

I was also on NPR recently, talking with Guy Raz on “All Things Considered” for what is a very long time on radio. It was a really well produced piece, distilling the story and making it sound as exciting and significant as I know it is.

And last but not least, the New Yorker, which doesn’t review all that many books, offered a nice assessment as part of its “Briefly Noted” (in the Cartoon Issue, no less!). Since it’s behind a pay wall and is pretty short, I’ve copied it out here:

Soviet Jews, more or less forbidden to cultivate their cultural identity, were nonetheless punished for it, facing both casual and systematic discrimination. Most were denied exit visas, even if family members had made it to America or Israel. Beckerman, in this wide-ranging and often moving history, shows how Soviet Jews banded together in underground support groups, risking years in prison or labor camps, and how U.S. activists spread awareness of their plight until it became one of the central political issues of the Cold War. The book traces dozens of intersecting story lines, and shows how, after decades of mixed success, the movement played a critical role in the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Beckerman suggests that it belongs among the great civil-rights success stories of the twentieth century.

A Taste

Over the last few weeks the Forward has run three excerpts from the book. They are nice introductions for those who want a taste before going ahead and dropping $30 (or $19.80 here!)

  • The first one tells the story of Meir Kahane and his brief but flamboyant rein over the Soviet Jewry movement, one that ended with a bomb that killed a Jewish secretary from Long Island.
  • The second involves this gentleman here to the right, Vladimir Slepak, one of the refusenik activists who became very well known in the West. It’s about a risky protest that he took part in which involved flying a banner from his balcony. It lead to three years of exile in the far eastern reaches of the Soviet Union.
  • The third is about Avital Shcharansky, the beautiful wife of the activist Anatoly Shcharansky (someone even called her the “Israeli Audrey Hepburn”). This is the story of how she turned her husband’s imprisonment into a global cause.

Enjoy. Each is also accompanied by some video of me talking about the book…


It’s been a very busy few days. The book had its official pub date on September 23. In all of the excitement, I forgot to post a concise, little video I help put together for the book (taking full advantage of the Forward’s great intern videographer, Nate Lavey). No fun gimmicks or crazy accents like this one, but we shot it in Brighton Beach and you do get a quick glimpse of the awkward state I was in at the age of thirteen.


I recently posted up a Q&A that I conducted with myself. It includes some thoughts on why the Soviet Jewry movement is still important today, beyond its Jewish context:

The story is still very relevant, and not only because Russia is behaving more and more like the old Soviet state in its suppression of dissent. One of the big questions the book poses is how a country like the United States balances its national security interests with moral imperatives. Soviet Jewry very much introduced this tension into the Cold War, turning it into a conflict that was about more than just who had how many missiles. This balance still poses incredible challenges for the United States. Take the case of China. On the one hand, the expansion of relations since the 1970s has had great economic benefits, but it has been accompanied by a deep undercurrent of discomfort about the censorship and repression that allows China’s nominally Communist authorities to stay in power. Iran is an even more dramatic example. The issue of how much and how publicly to support the growing democracy movement while also trying to stop their nuclear program strongly echoes debates from the 1970s surrounding Soviet Jews.

Times Op-Ed!

It’s been a very exciting day for me with my op-ed on the Leningrad hijacking appearing in the New York Times this morning. If you’re interested and get a chance, take a look at it in the paper itself. They’ve run it very big with evocative art. It’s one of those moments when you realize what gets lost when papers dissapear. Online it’s just one in a list of articles. In the paper, it’s been curated. Anyway, amazing news for me no matter where you read it.