Tuesday, March 26, 2013

One Book

Stalin's Barber by Paul M. Levitt

Russia, 1931.  An Albanian Jew, Razeer Shtube, a barber fleeing fascist persecution in his homeland seeks refuge in the “workers’ paradise” under construction in the Soviet Union.  He not only finds refuge but a wife, newly widowed after the death of her abusive husband.  Unlike the deceased husband, Razeer is kind but in Stalin’s Russia he is also always wary.  His skill as a barber draws the attention of his stepson, Dimitri, a KGB officer, who recommends him as a replacement for Josef Stalin's recently dismissed barber.  Razeer recognizes the risk—the closer to power, the greater the danger—but takes the job and his chances.  Stalin’s Barber vividly and chillingly re-creates Russia during the unfolding years of Stalin’s dictatorship where people live double lives, their private thoughts at odds with the public persona required to avoid the scrutiny of an all-encompassing ideology and all-too-ruthless state.  

 Paul Levitt vividly recreates Russia in the 1930’s.  Razeer and his family live in the Kremlin and move among the new Soviet elite.  Then the purges begin.  They witness the purges as neighbors disappear.  They experience exile, hardship and, for some, survival.  The story is chilling one but Levitt also demonstrates how human beings manage the hand they are dealt.  Razeer, Anna, her children and Yelana, their adopted daughter, retain their humanity even as events become foreboding, more dire and outright dangerous.  Stalin’s Barber is a tale of difficult lives and times, well told and a fascinating read for students of Russian History.

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