This memoir, a young poet’s tragicomic account of crossed loves and rebellions as he grows from boy to man under the vigilant eyes of the state in the Soviet Union between the 1950s and 1970s, can be approached as a bildungsroman. It is set in Tallinn, Riga and Moscow (with episodes in Uzbekistan, Moldavia, and the Ukraine) and, apart from this author’s own story, deals with the experiences of young people of that period, their friendships and attempts to form erotic/romantic attachments, as well as their search for national—Baltic, Jewish, Russian—identity while being watched and sometimes interrogated by the secret police. It also includes some reconstruction of the author’s family history: expulsion from Spain, the Magician of Prague, the renowned historian Simon Dubnov. The volume progresses from the demonstration of two seven-year-old boys’ against Stalin and Lenin, in Tallinn, in the mid-1950s to a dramatic and doomed love affair with a woman married to an army colonel who attempts to shoot the author as the latter is about to make his final exit from the country, with the KGB on his tail, in the early 1970s.
While raising a number of important historical and contemporary issues, the memoir is also an involving narrative, a visually descriptive story, varied and engrossing, involving philosophical, theological, and detective elements; popular and literary culture; countries and languages; high seriousness and undercutting irony.