Ester and Ruzya by Masha Gessen
How My Grandmothers Survived Hitler's War and Stalin's Peace

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Synopsis

In the 1930s, as waves of war and persecution were crashing over Europe, two young Jewish women began separate journeys of survival. One, a Polish-born woman from Bialystok, where virtually the entire Jewish community would soon be sent to the ghetto and from there to Hitler’s concentration camps, was determined not only to live but to live with pride and defiance. The other, a Russian-born intellectual and introvert, would eventually become a high-level censor under Stalin’s regime. At war’s end, both women found themselves in Moscow, where informers lurked on every corner and anti-Semitism reigned. It was there that Ester and Ruzya would first cross paths, there that they became the closest of friends and learned to trust each other with their lives.

In this deeply moving family memoir, journalist Masha Gessen tells the story of her two beloved grandmothers: Ester, the quicksilver rebel who continually battled the forces of tyranny; Ruzya, a single mother who joined the Communist Party under duress and made the compromises the regime exacted of all its citizens. Both lost their first loves in the war. Both suffered unhappy unions. Both were gifted linguists who made their living as translators. And both had children—Ester a boy, and Ruzya a girl—who would grow up, fall in love, and have two children of their own: Masha and her younger brother.

With grace, candor, and meticulous research, Gessen peels back the layers of secrecy surrounding her grandmothers’ lives. As she follows them through this remarkable period in history—from the Stalin purges to the Holocaust, from the rise of Zionism to the fall of communism—she describes how each of her grandmothers, and before them her great-grandfather, tried to navigate a dangerous line between conscience and compromise.

Ester and Ruzya is a spellbinding work of storytelling, filled with political intrigue and passionate emotion, acts of courage and acts of betrayal. At once an intimate family chronicle and a fascinating historical tale, it interweaves the stories of two women with a brilliant vision of Russian history. The result is a memoir that reads like a novel—and an extraordinary testament to the bonds of family and the power of hope, love, and endurance.


From the Hardcover edition.
 

About Masha Gessen

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MASHA GESSEN is a journalist and the author of several previous books, most recently Perfect Rigor. Editor of the Russian-language Snob magazine, she has contributed to Vanity Fair, The New Republic, Granta, and Slate, among other publications. Gessen lives in Moscow.
 
Published December 25, 2008 by The Dial Press. 386 pages
Genres: Biographies & Memoirs, History, Travel, War. Non-fiction

Unrated Critic Reviews for Ester and Ruzya

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Ester and Ruzya formed a bond, affectionately evoked by their granddaughter, that sustained them over the years.

Nov 02 2004 | Read Full Review of Ester and Ruzya: How My Grand...

The New York Times

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Yet, Gessen argues, the line between the Judenrat and the resistance was not as sharp as we like to think: some council members, apparently including Jakub, helped smuggle weapons in and fighters out of the ghetto.

Mar 06 2005 | Read Full Review of Ester and Ruzya: How My Grand...

The New York Times

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Ruzya is ashamed of her censorship work and contrasts herself unfavorably with gallant Ester -- even though Ester was at one low point almost ready to take a job translating for the secret police.

Mar 06 2005 | Read Full Review of Ester and Ruzya: How My Grand...

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