Thursday, January 8, 2009

A Century of Ambivalence: The Jews of Russia and the Soviet Union, 1881 to the Present by Zvi Y. Gitelman

I didn't have high hopes for this book, in fact as soon as I received it I put it away in the back of a bookshelf and up until a few days ago forgot I even had it. Deciding I haven't read anything on Jewish history in a while I gave this title a try after rummaging through various bookshelves and coming upon this title. I was not disappointed, well, to be honest, I was only disappointed in two aspect. Overall this book is very well written. The text is interspersed with pictures of Jewish life within Russia throughout the time period(s) being discussed. This is not a boring read, the author does an excellent job of moving the reader through Jewish religious, cultural, social and political history within the Russian Empire and what would become the Soviet Union. Additionally, there is some discussion about Jewish presence within the Russian army in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, but this is where I was somewhat disappointed. There is little to no discussion of individual Jews within the Russian army throughout WWI. For example, we are told in general terms that half a million Jews served but little detail is given about what these Jews actually did on the front lines. Secondly, this book is sorely lacking in endnotes. There is a lot of fascinating information which I was pleasantly surprised to learn about but I have no idea where to trace this information to! Thus the four star rating. In the end this is an interesting read and will undoubtedly teach both the novice and the expert something new. Yet still, this becomes a narrative that could have presented a more meaningful account if the time was taken out to source all the information being presented.

No comments: