An Autobiographical Narration of the Role of Fear and Friendship in the Soviet Union

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An autobiography of a well-known American sociologist who first rose to prominence in the Soviet Union. The author examines the life of an individual who realized in his early youth the totalitarian character of the Soviet society but who did not dare fight the system. The author reflects on human nature based on his life experiences in the USSR and to some degree also in the West. Special attention has been devoted to the role of fear in totalitarian society, and to the way people adjusted to it.


"This is a fascinating book wherein the author, himself a world-class sociologist, describes and reflects upon his life in Soviet Russia before migrating to the United States. We view in his remembrance, a parade of ideologues and cynics, of apparatchiks and scholars, of musicians and KGB agents, of artists and scientists, manipulators and operators, patriots and dispossessed bourgeois yearning for repossession." (From the Commendatory Preface) Robert Solo, Professor Emeritus, Michigan State University

"This book presents a unique opportunity to observe the life of a Russian academic, who migrated to the United States at the age of 53 and succeeded in establishing himself as a distinguished faculty member in a major American university. Professor Shlapentokh had already made a name for himself as a sociologist and pollster in a country where these pursuits were frowned upon by the establishment. Nonetheless he decided to make the leap to immigrate to the United States in order to pursue his scholarly interests, free from the constraints of a totalitarian government and to enhance educational opportunities for his children. This highly personal memoir highlights the many differences of growing up and living in two very different societies, among them: the importance of friendship and trust where life is lived under the ever-present watchful eyes of the KGB; differences in university life for those in totalitarian Russia and the United States; the higher level of intellectual and cultural life among the Russian intelligentsia compared with their counterparts in the United States; life in pre- and post-Stalin Russia, and much more. Omnipresent in every facet of life in both pre- and post-Stalin Russia, as experienced by Shlapentokh, was the “Jewish question.” Even as a non-observant Jew, he recounts many incidents of discrimination in which his Jewish heritage played a major role, eventually leading to his decision to leave Russia for the United States. This brief review only begins to describe the many insights to be derived from a reading of this book." - Jack Stieber, Professor Emeritus, Michigan State University

"You could start and finish reading this book in one evening. And yet, I almost guarantee that on the next day, you will open it for a second time: the story line has many meanings, which you would discover again and again like a reader who finds new images in the metaphors of a brilliant piece of poetry. This is a wonderful book written by a brilliant sociologist and essayist who through the prism of his own biography revealed the remarkable details of what the historians call the glory and misery of the Soviet Society. The Soviet people did not have just two “lives” or “minds,” as it commonly presented. To adjust to the social system, they had to develop many lives, values, and habits¾with a share of them designed for themselves, and the other share designated for “others,” for the society, for the system. This remarkable kaleidoscope of the Soviet society was admirably captured by Vladimir Shlapentokh in his book: although the life could appear gray and dull for a superficial observer, but, in fact, it was splendidly picturesque. While reading the book, you will experience the authors’ optimism because, despite what some our history textbooks say, there were purpose, optimism, and hopes in the Soviet people’s lives--the never-ending hopes for justice, decency, and, of course, prosperity. Don’t read this book in one evening. Give yourself delight to continue to live through this wonderfully written story of a life. And then, of course, you can read it again. Our rediscovery of a life is often more delightful than the initial find." - Eric Shiraev, Ph.D., George Mason University

Table of Contents

Preface by Robert Solo
A Note to English Readers
Izya and Alik
"Objective" Biographies of Friends in Light of Contemporary Post-Modernism Fear
Chapter 1: My Friends: Friendship During Soviet Childhood, Our Families, and Soviet Power Before the War
Chapter 2: Friendship and Maturity
Chapter 3: Fear: Life in the Totalitarian Society
Chapter 4: Our Intellectual and Cultural Development
Chapter 5: AThe Jewish Question@ and My Friends
Chapter 6: Bittersweet Life in Post-Stalinist Russia: The Academic Campus in the 1960s
Chapter 7: The National Issue in our Friendship
Conclusion: Parting with the Totalitarian Past
List of Names

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