Natan Sha­ran­sky: Free­dom Fight­er for Sovi­et Jews

Blake Hoe­na, Daniele Dick­mann (Ilus­tra­tor)

  • Review
By – May 17, 2021

For years, many fol­lowed the sto­ry of Natan Sha­ran­sky and the Sovi­et refuseniks.” It was riv­et­ing, a real-life les­son in why reli­gious free­dom — and the free­dom to crit­i­cize one’s gov­ern­ment — was so cru­cial. Many of today’s chil­dren, par­tic­u­lar­ly in Amer­i­ca, don’t know of Sha­ran­sky, which is why this new book about his life is both over­due and wel­come. The graph­ic nov­el for­mat makes it ful­ly acces­si­ble to young read­ers and gives the sto­ry the urgency it demands. Sha­ran­sky’s per­son­al­i­ty is con­veyed well: his grow­ing under­stand­ing of what it meant to be Jew­ish in the Sovi­et Union, his dis­il­lu­sion­ment with the way things were, his courage and per­sis­tence in try­ing to effect change, his sense of humor. The author and artist do a ter­rif­ic job of telling the sto­ry of his per­se­cu­tion and putting it in his­tor­i­cal con­text. Read­ers learn about the oppres­sive rule of Stal­in and his death; the inva­sion of Czecho­slo­va­kia; and Sha­ran­sky’s impris­on­ment and even­tu­al release (as the first polit­i­cal pris­on­er released by Mikhail Gor­bachev), thanks in part to the efforts of his wife and the inter­na­tion­al com­mu­ni­ty. It’s a book with great for­ward momen­tum; it asks to be read straight through in one sitting.

One com­plaint only, which extends to many graph­ic biogra­phies: it would be use­ful to know whether any of the dia­logue is direct­ly quot­ed — per­haps back notes could have iden­ti­fied which of Sharansky’s thoughts pre­sent­ed here are in his own words. Nev­er­the­less, this book is high­ly recommended.

Leslie Kim­mel­man grew up out­side Philadel­phia and grad­u­at­ed from Mid­dle­bury Col­lege in Ver­mont. She is the author of many children’s books, awards for which include Best Children’s Books of the Year from the Bank Street Col­lege of Edu­ca­tion; Notable Children’s Trade Books in the Field of Social Stud­ies; and Syd­ney Tay­lor Notable Books. Kim­mel­man is an edi­tor at Sesame Work­shop and lives with her fam­i­ly just north of New York City.

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