This essay analyzes early twenty-first-century English-language literature by Soviet-born Jewish writers as a response to the Jewish literary and cultural politics of the Cold War period. First, by reexamining the postcolonial concept of hybridity, it argues that the “Soviet Jew” is not a neutral description of a Jewish person from the USSR. Rather, it is a discursive product that emerged during the Soviet Jewry Movement, a figure who requires reeducation, specifically of a religious nature, as part of advocacy by Jews in the West on behalf of Jews in the USSR. Second, it analyzes texts by Elie Wiesel, Bernard Malamud, and Chaim Potok that have become part of the North American Jewish literary canon with a focus on these works’ scenes of encounter between Jews in the USSR and Jewish writers visiting from abroad. These depictions specifically emphasize the visiting writers’ projections of their concerns about their own Jewish identities and about Jewish continuity more broadly onto the figure of the “Soviet Jew.” Finally, it demonstrates that Boris Fishman, Anya Ulinich, and David Bezmozgis offer a contemporary restaging of such scenes of encounter, now between émigré Jews from the USSR and their Jewish hosts in North America. In these recent works, the “Soviet Jew” is a figure that can be manipulated—frequently in satirical ways—as immigrant literary protagonists navigate the process of fitting in (or, not fitting in) within North American Jewish communal landscapes created, in part, with the help of the figure of the “Soviet Jew” itself.


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 98-132
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.