My Life in Stalinist Russia
Now in paperback!

My Life in Stalinist Russia

An American Woman Looks Back
Mary M. Leder
Edited by Laurie Bernstein, with an introduction by Laurie Bernstein and Robert Weinberg
Distribution: World
Publication date: 9/1/2001
Format: paper 360 pages, 21 b&w photos, 1 bibliog., 1 index
6.125 x 9.25
ISBN: 978-0-253-21442-3
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“The thoughtful memoirs of a disillusioned daughter of the Russian Revolution. . . . A sometimes astonishing, worm’s-eye view of life under totalitarianism, and a valuable contribution to Soviet and Jewish studies.” —Kirkus Reviews

“In this engrossing memoir, Leder recounts the 34 years she lived in the U.S.S.R. . . . [She] has a marvelous memory for the details of everyday life. . . . This plainly written account will particularly appeal to readers with a general interest in women’s memoirs, Russian culture and history, and leftist politics.” —Publishers Weekly

In 1931, Mary M. Leder, an American teenager, was attending high school in Santa Monica, California. By year’s end, she was living in a Moscow commune and working in a factory, thousands of miles from her family, with whom she had emigrated to Birobidzhan, the area designated by the USSR as a Jewish socialist homeland. Although her parents soon returned to America, Mary, who was not permitted to leave, would spend the next 34 years in the Soviet Union. My Life in Stalinist Russia chronicles Leder’s experiences from the extraordinary perspective of both an insider and an outsider. Readers will be drawn into the life of this independent-minded young woman, coming of age in a society that she believed was on the verge of achieving justice for all but which ultimately led her to disappointment and disillusionment. Leder’s absorbing memoir presents a microcosm of Soviet history and an extraordinary window into everyday life and culture in the Stalin era.


"Mary Mackler Leder was by no means a significant figure in Stalinist Russia, but readers will find that she writes an arresting observer's account of life in Russia over more than two decades. Sovietologists of the Stalinist era will find interesting anecdotes about Soviet life that confirm, revise, and in some cases authenticate the constructed sociology of the time. One example that constantly reappears is Leder's insistence on stating that she is an American, while the authorities both high and low, all across the Soviet Union, simply classify her as Jewish, with all the usual and stereotypical ramifications of that view. Two particular periods of the account are noteworthy—those about the purges in the 1930s and the war years, during which time her baby daughter died. Perhaps most remarkable is Leder's ability to recall her past with exquisite detail and precision so many years beyond the events. Upper-division undergraduates and above." —C. W. Haury, Piedmont Virginia Community College , Choice , January 2002

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Table of Contents

Introduction by Laurie Bernstein and Robert Weinberg
1. My Family Leaves for the Soviet Union—1931
2. Birobidzhan—1931
3. Settling in Moscow—1931 to 1932
4. The Factory and the Commune—The Winter of 1931/1932
5. A Teenager in Moscow—Spring 1932
6. My parents leave—Summer of 1932 to Summer of 1933
7. Americans and Other Foreigners in Moscow—1933 to 1934
8. A Biology Student at Moscow University—1934 to 1935
9. A History Student at Moscow University—1935 to 1936
10. At the Commissariat of Defense—November 1936 to March 1938
11. Purges and the Publishing House—Spring 1938 to Winter 1939
12. Newlyweds—Winter 1939 to Summer 1941
13. The Outbreak of War—1941
14. Evacuation from Moscow and Return—Fall 1941 to Spring 1942
15. TASS and Moscow University—1942 to 1946
16. Berlin—1946
17. Postwar Moscow—1947
18. Postwar Anti-Semitism—1948 to 1950
19. Respite—1950
20. During Stalin’s Final Years—1950 to 1953
Suggestions for Further Reading