Posted on 08/19/2015 at 12:00 AM by Sadye Scott-Hainchek

Many of us look back on adolescence as a challenging time, one in which we felt mocked and as though we didn't belong. Svetlana Grobman, who grew up in Moscow during the Cold War, is no exception to that generalization — though in her case, it's no exaggeration. 

Being Jewish, she suffered from anti-Semitism until her escape to the U.S. in addition to the repression and shortages that most Russians were experiencing during that time.

That experience has been converted into a well-reviewed memoir, "The Education of a Traitor," which covers the first 15 years of her life behind the Iron Curtain. 

Svetlana took some time away from her work on a second book to chat with Fussy about her creative journey.

SADYE: You waited to write “The Education of a Traitor” until you were fluent enough in English to do so. Did you ever consider hiring a ghostwriter?

SVETLANA: No, I have never considered hiring a ghostwriter. For one thing, this is my story, which, to me, means that I am the best person to tell it. Also, writing is one of the joys of my life, so I wouldn’t pass it on to someone else.

I think that hiring a ghostwriter works mostly for people who are very famous and, therefore, rich. I, on the other hand, have never been either one.

Besides, I didn’t write my book to tell the world how exceptional I am. My goal was to show how an oppressive, totalitarian, and anti-Semitic regime affects the everyday life of regular people, what it does to their relationships, and how it skews their worldview.

SADYE: What has been the reaction to “The Education of a Traitor”?

SVETLANA: My American friends and family have been very supportive of my book. As for my readers, many of them told me how struck they were by the differences between their upbringing in America and mine in Russia.

Yet they also told me how relatable many of my experiences were to them: bullying, sexual maturation, relationships with the adult world, and the sense of fairness, which, I believe, is especially acute in children.

As for people who would have supported the Soviet regime, I have not heard much from them. I did hear from complete strangers — some of them are Russian immigrants and some are offspring of other Eastern European immigrants — who reached out to tell me about their own lives. 

SADYE: Has the process of thinking back to all the suffering in Russia had any bad effects on you?

SVETLANA: Well, it was somewhat difficult to relive bad memories, and, at times, it did affect my mood.

Still, I never experienced a pogrom (my great-grandparents did), I didn’t live through the war (my parents did), and, lucky for me, my life was not exceptionally tragic (many people around the world had it worse than me). Understanding this helped me keep my feelings in check.

Besides, my American husband, who is also a writer, always tells me, “Don’t feel sorry for yourself.” So, I tried not to.

SADYE: Do you have plans to write any more books?

SVETLANA: Yes, I do. In fact, I’ve been writing it already. My next book will describe my adaptation to America and also what it means to be an immigrant.

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“The Education of a Traitor” is available at Amazon as well as local bookstores. For more about Svetlana, visit her website and follow her on Twitter


Categories: Author Interview

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