Co-presented with Greenlight Bookstore: Can trauma be inherited? It is this question that sets Alex Halberstadt off on a quest to name and acknowledge a legacy of family trauma, and to end a century-old cycle of estrangement.
His search takes him across the troubled, enigmatic land of his birth. In Ukraine he tracks down his paternal grandfather—most likely the last living bodyguard of Joseph Stalin—to reckon with the ways in which decades of Soviet totalitarianism shaped three generations of his family. He visits Lithuania, his Jewish mother’s home, to examine the legacy of the Holocaust and pernicious anti-Semitism that remains largely unaccounted for. And he returns to his birthplace, Moscow, where his glamorous grandmother designed homespun couture for Soviet ministers’ wives, his mother consoled dissidents at a psychiatric hospital, and his father made a dangerous living dealing in black-market American records. Along the way, Halberstadt traces the fragile and indistinct boundary between history and biography.
Finally, he explores his own story: that of an immigrant who arrived in America, to a housing project in Queens, New York. A now fatherless ten-year-old boy struggling with identity, rootlessness, and a yearning for home, he became another in a line of sons who grew up separated from their fathers by the tides of politics and history.
Alex Halberstadt is the author of the award-winning Lonely Avenue: The Unlikely Life and Times of Doc Pomus. His writing has appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, Travel + Leisure, GQ, Saveur, and The Paris Review. He's a two-time James Beard Award nominee and a recipient of fellowships from The McDowell Colony and Yaddo. He was educated at Oberlin College and Columbia University, and teaches and lives in New York.
Masha Gessen is a staff writer at The New Yorker and the author of eleven books of nonfiction, including the National Book Award winner The Future Is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia. Gessen's next book, Surviving Autocracy, will be published in June.
Books will be available for purchase and signing courtesy of Greenlight Bookstore.
Alex Halberstadt Photo © Edward Burt
Masha Gessen Photo © Lena Di