Soviet Daughter: A Graphic Revolutionby Julia Alekseyeva Published 10 Jan 2017
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Born in 1910 to a poor, Jewish family outside of Kiev, Lola lived through the Bolshevik revolution, a horrifying civil war, Stalinist purges, and the Holocaust. She taught herself to read, and supported her extended family working as a secretary for the notorious NKVD (which became the KGB) and later as a lieutenant for the Red Army. Her family, including 4-year-old Yulia, moved to the U.S. in the wake of Chernobyl and forged a new life.
Soviet Daughter united two generations of strong, independent women against a sweeping backdrop of the history of the USSR. Like Sarah Glidden in How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less , or Marjane Satrapi in Persepolis , Alekseyeva deftly combines compelling stories of women finding their way in the world with an examination o the ties we all have with out families, ethnicities, and the still-fresh traumas of the 20th century.
"Soviet Daughter: A Graphic Revolution" Reviews
This is a graphic memoir and biography that is also was many memoirs are, a history of the time. What time? Julia Alekseyeva's great-grandmother Lola lived to 100 years, and died fairly recently, so the time span is an inviting 100 years. Both Lola and Julia are spirited and independent, though you really don't get very much compelling information about Julia, which we read in interludes from Lola's decade-by-decade story. I like the idea of the back and forth storytelling, but the story of Julia itself, eh. The point for her is that no one understood her like Lola. It's in part a coming-of-age story --for two women--that reminds one of Satrapi's Persepolis, in places.
Lola was born near Kieve in 1910. Jewish, she lived through the Bolshevik revolution, civil war, Stalinist purges, pogroms, and the Holocaust. She worked as a secretary for what became the KGB KGB. She had many boyfriends and husbands and recalls them all, entertainingly. Her family, including 4-year-old Julia, emigrated to Chicago in the wake of Chernobyl. The art is pretty muddy, and the panels are packed and sometimes hard to read, but I read it all through and enjoyed it.
PS: My friend/student J read it IN my class today and liked the art, thought it was a little blurry like memory itself, found it perfect form for the content, which is an interesting point.
Soviet Daughter is a compelling biography of a young Jewish woman who grew up in Russian during the early part of the century. It's always fascinating to see examples of women living independently in the past when that is not a narrative that gets much attention in our history lessons. Lola was the eldest daughter of a large family, and one of the few to survive the war and pogroms of the era. She married more than once, had boyfriends, raised a daughter on her own, and worked all throughout her adult life (and much of what we would consider her youth as well).
There are two points of weakness in this collection. The author adds in pieces of her own story in between chapters of her grandmother's life, but her moments are less interesting. There are some moments worth thinking about, but not enough reflection to actually make them work.
Additionally, the art and the printing are a bit weak. Sometimes it's hard to tell which exactly is going wrong, but the pages are sometimes quite muddy and hard to make out.
I was floored when I read my ARC of Soviet Daugther. Each page is bursting with authenticity. It starts with the subject matter, taken from the author's great-grandmother who actually lived in the USSR from its early golden years and endured the struggles of WWII. And follows through with the hand drawn images adorned with beautifully expressive inkwashes.
The novel also tells a unique story that links together two generations, one from the 20s and the other from the 00's. The author shows how they are tied together by a certain grit and political engagement. But this larger narrative never overshadows the beautiful interpersonal story of this cross generational relationship.
I highly recommend this graphic novel. It is in equal parts beautiful, personal, heartbreaking, uplifting, and truthful. You will walk away with a reinvogorated taste for the world.
3.5 -ish stars. Maybe closer to 4.
I'm not really sure how to review this book. On the one hand, Lola's life - all 100 years of it -- is fascinating and inspiring. And the genesis of the book -- Lola's memoirs and family photos, compiled and drawn by Lola's great-granddaughter Julia -- also lends this book a high level of interest for me. I thought the graphic format, almost like a scrapbook, worked very well to convey the feeling of Lola's memoirs as family history first, and then as a very personal and immediate history of much of the 20th century, at least through Soviet eyes. In addition, this is a different kind of book for Americans to read, as Lola remained a committed communist her entire life and only emigrated to the US in her elder years because of concerns about Chernobyl's radioactivity after Julia was born. All of this was solidly a 4 star book.
The modern interludes are a little more problematic, because while they function as necessary frames for the reader to understand how the book came to be, the author is pretty young and takes herself pretty seriously. Lacking Lola's years, she is naturally somewhat less self-reflective. Linking some of the movements of the moment (such as Occupy Wall Street) to the Russian Revolution and Lola's struggles through the Interwar years, WWII, and the Stalinist purges seems to me to be somewhat... not the same.
But overall it was a good book that I appreciated reading, particularly as my own 100 year old grandfather just died last year.
Recommended for older teens and adults.
I feel bad giving this such a low rating. I thought the grandmother's story was interesting and at times moving, and I appreciate how much the author loved her and wanted to honor her. The problem is that the art was really not for me, to the point that it distracted me from the things that I liked.
A surprisingly positive view of the author's great-grandmother's life in Soviet Russia. As a secretary for the NKVD, she seems to have avoided or been oblivious to the various purges, massacres, and gulags that we often find synonymous with the rule of Stalin. Most of her family was killed, but by Germans during the two world wars, or by non-Russians for being Jewish. The family eventually immigrated after Chernobyl. The author's constant interludes about growing up in America break up the flow of the story and the art is not fantastic.