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Ester and Ruzya


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About the Author

Masha Gessen is a staff writer at The New Yorker and the author of several books, among them The Future Is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia and The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin. The recipient of numerous awards, including a Guggenheim Fellowship and a Carnegie Fellowship, Gessen teaches at Amherst College and lives in New York City.


After leaving Russia in 1981 when she was 14, journalist Gessen visited 10 years later and moved back a few years after that. The transition represents the two major themes of her memoir: displacement and familial ties. After reconnecting with her Russian kin, Gessen seeks to explore her roots. Rather than tell her own story, Gessen reaches into her family's past, weaving together the stories of her two grandmothers as they live through the turmoil and terror of the first half of the 20th century. The two Jewish women, born in separate countries, meet and become friends in 1949, after fleeing persecution and war in Poland and Russia. The terrors strengthen their friendship, Gessen writes: "It was probably most like family: a bond that once established, was believed permanent." Both have children, who then fall in love with each other and have children of their own, including Gessen. By using the present tense, Gessen gives the memoir a sense of immediacy. She also deftly puts her grandmothers' experiences in context by describing the brutal realities of Stalin's regime and the desperation of Jews trying to escape Nazi concentration camps. This blend of historical depth with personal experience is a powerful mix, illuminating how family and friendship can grow in even the darkest eras. Agent, Elyse Cheney. (Nov.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.

"Reviewers sometimes call a work of nonfiction 'as exciting as a novel, ' but that would be an understatement applied to this extraordinary family memoir. . . . Ester and Ruzya will remind you how much life, history and emotional and moral complexity the genre can convey in the hands of a wonderful writer."--The New York Times Book Review

"Masha Gessen has written an indispensable history of Soviet Jews as seen through the eyes of two unforgettable women--her grandmothers. The scope and complexity of their characters rivals anything you will find in contemporary fiction. Their lives, underscored by hardship, compromise and hope, are rendered both with a granddaughter's love and a journalist's insight. A beautiful book."--Gary Shteyngart, author of Super Sad True Love Story and Little Failure "A loving memoir of two grandmothers that offers a penetrating look at two killer regimes. Masha Gessen's wonderful book portrays human beings trying to live justly when there is virtually no way to do so."--William Taubman, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Khrushchev: The Man and His Era "This blend of historical depth with personal experience is a powerful mix, illuminating how family and friendship can grow in even the darkest eras."--Publishers Weekly "A journalist's memoir of her grandmothers also paints an eloquent portrait of two totalitarian powers, the havoc they wrought, and the countless burdens they imposed on ordinary families. . . . A masterful chronicle of dark and dangerous years, and a distinguished addition to the history of totalitarianism."--Kirkus Reviews

"A saga of two fascinating Russian-Jewish women making ends meet, making love, making homes, making agonizing compromises in the most terrible times of the twentieth century--witty, colorful, tragic, seething with life and character, it is a little classic of storytelling."
--Simon Sebag Montefiore, author of The Romanovs: 1613-1918 "This is a deeply moving account of what it meant to be a Jew under Hitler's rule and, equally brutal, Stalin's rule. Masha Gessen, a talented writer with a human touch, has brilliantly used her grandmothers as a way to bring to life a grim era of East European history."--Daniel Schorr, former senior news analyst for National Public Radio "Ester and Ruzya is an example of what's best in Russia's literary tradition--a beautifully written personal story with universal significance."--Nina Khrushcheva, Professor of International Affairs, The New School "Beautifully written and deeply felt, Masha Gessen's Ester and Ruzya tells the story of the two totalitarian regimes that reigned in twentieth-century Europe from a completely fresh perspective. Gessen's description of the compromises people made to survive should force those of us living in a luckier era to think harder about what we mean by 'morality.'"--Anne Applebaum, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Gulag: A History and Red Famine: Stalin's War on Ukraine

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