Monday, June 10, 2013


Out of Line: Growing up Soviet by Tina Grimberg is a short memoir of her childhood growing up in Kiev, Ukraine under Soviet rule in the 1960s and 70s.

It reads pretty much as you’d expect: things are grim, life is not easy, there are long lines for everything with no guarantees of actually acquiring anything, consumer products are usually expensive and cheaply made, making head way requires knowing people in the right places or having enough money to bribe anyone with a modicum of power, information about the west is limited and correspondence with those from outside the Soviet Union is censored.   Many of her stories seem to take place in the winter, giving us the feeling of being cold on top of everything else.

But from Tina’s perspective as a child, this is just everyday life and doesn't seem so horrible.  She comes from a loving family and many of her stories revolve around her parents and grandparents.  She’s fascinated with family history and loves to be regaled with stories that tell of other times, especially those that are about World War II.  We get glimpses into everyday activities, of going to school and visiting friends and relatives with insightful observations, elements of humour and sometimes sadness.

It’s interesting to read about how her family deals with being Jewish and trying to minimize recognition of their heritage.  Practising or following any religion was strongly discouraged by the state.  Being Jewish during the war was particularly difficult since Jews were targeted by both the Nazis and the Soviets.  Many of Tina’s family members changed their Jewish-sounding names (Sarah or Ginda) to more Russian-sounding ones (Svetlana or Inna).  Being identified as a ‘kike’ is insulting if not risky.

Despite of the hardships, inconveniences and repression, Tina loves her family, school and country.  She is proud that the Soviets stood up the Nazis.  It is a very difficult decision for everyone in her family to emigrate, but one that will give Tina and her sister more opportunities for a better life.  Being branded a ‘traitor’ by schoolmates and neighbours is difficult to bear.

I would recommend this book for middle school readers.  Its unfortunate the reading level is a bit high for those in grade 3 as this would be a nice fit with the social studies curriculum that looks at life in the Ukraine, but I would recommend grade 3 teachers reading it themselves for context or reading aloud the occasional passage.

Rabbi Tina Grimberg acknowledges the friends who encouraged her to record her memories and I'm hoping she may be prevailed upon to continue writing about her life as a new immigrant.

Today's event is hosted by Practically Paradise by Diane R. Kelly.  Check out this week's list of recommended nonfiction children's literature.


DianeRChen Kelly said...

I would love to see more current memoirs, also. Thanks for sharing this.

Jeff Barger said...

This would be an interesting book to use for teaching point of view. It would also pair well with Peter Sis's memoir, The Wall.

Perogyo said...

I used to be obsessed with learning about life in the USSR when I was a kid and the cold war was on. I would have loved to see a book like this at that time.

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