Skip to main content

Distributed for Brandeis University Press

The Soviet Jewish Bookshelf

Jewish Culture and Identity Between the Lines

An original investigation into the reading strategies and uses of books by Jews in the Soviet era. 
In The Soviet Jewish Bookshelf, Marat Grinberg argues that in an environment where Judaism had been all but destroyed, and a public Jewish presence routinely delegitimized, reading uniquely provided many Soviet Jews with an entry to communal memory and identity. The bookshelf was both a depository of selective Jewish knowledge and often the only conspicuously Jewish presence in their homes. The typical Soviet Jewish bookshelf consisted of a few translated works from Hebrew and numerous translations from Yiddish and German as well as Russian books with both noticeable and subterranean Jewish content. Such volumes, officially published, and not intended solely for a Jewish audience, afforded an opportunity for Soviet Jews to indulge insubordinate feelings in a largely safe manner. Grinberg is interested in pinpointing and decoding the complex reading strategies and the specifically Jewish uses to which the books on the Soviet Jewish bookshelf were put. He reveals that not only Jews read them, but Jews read them in a specific way. 

284 pages | 16 halftones | 6 x 9 | © 2022

The Tauber Institute Series for the Study of European Jewry

History: European History

Jewish Studies

Literature and Literary Criticism: Slavic Languages

Brandeis University Press image

View all books from Brandeis University Press


“This academic book offers deep insights into decades of Soviet Jewish culture, considering how they read, and what they wrote, all under the deep blanket of repression.”

Bookishly Jewish

“As Grinberg shows in his book The Soviet Jewish Bookshelf, Soviet Jews had a deep interest in books on Jewish topics. Their bookshelf was quite wide. Here were Russian translations of Yiddish and Hebrew, of world fiction, original works of Soviet authors, popular historical and philosophical books, and even the anti-Zionist propaganda since it also contained bits of useful information. . . . Particularly interesting is Grinberg’s ingenious analysis. . . . of the works of the brothers Arkady and Boris Strugatsky.”


“Soviet Jews were the People of the Book. Denied all access to Scripture, they turned their bookshelves into major memory sites, fashioning a personal and collective identity out of historical fiction, science fiction, poetry, children’s verse, memoirs, travelogues, translations from Yiddish and modern Hebrew, and even anti-Zionist propaganda. Here is the untold story of their ongoing, multigenerational struggle for self-determination as told by a native son with great clarity, thoroughness, and empathy. Were this not enough, Marat Grinberg has also redefined Jewish literature as that which a living polity has rescued through conscious acts of creative rereading.”

David G. Roskies, Sol & Evelyn Henkind Emeritus Professor of Yiddish Literature and Culture, The Jewish Theological Seminary

“What made Soviet Jews Jewish? Superbly researched and lucidly argued, The Soviet Jewish Bookshelf makes a convincing case for the formation of a unique Soviet Jewish identity through subversive and generative reading practices. The eponymous bookshelf, an important material and intellectual feature of the Soviet Jewish home, was capacious enough to hold a variety of texts, from Leon Feuchtwanger’s sweeping historical novels, to Alexandra Burshtein’s and Lev Kassil’s coming-of-age tales, and the Strugatsky brothers’ science fiction. Soviet Jews mined the contents of the shelf for references to Jewishness—overt and oblique, empowering and disparaging—to bolster a sense of selfhood and peoplehood. Over and above making a significant scholarly contribution, Grinberg’s book bears witness to a community’s heroic struggle to survive against impossible odds.”

Helena I. Gurfinkel, Southern Illinois University Edwardsville

“Marat Grinberg’s original and engaging study locates the core of Russian-Jewish identity not in a particular language or religious faith, but in a canon of treasured books, both Jewish and non-Jewish, and a practice of reading ‘between the lines.’ Along the way, he offers provocative new interpretations of Soviet and non-Soviet classics alike.”

Adrian Wanner, Pennsylvania State University

Table of Contents

Introduction: The Soviet Jewish Bookshelf: There’s “there, there”
Chapter One: Lion Feuchtwanger – the Soviet Jewish Scripture
Chapter Two: The Core: Salvage Fragments
Chapter Three: “Translated from Jewish”: Read and Unread
Chapter Four: The Bottom Shelf: Between the Lines of “Reactionary” Judaism and Anti-Zionism
Chapter Five: Signs of the Times: Yuri Trifonov and the Strugatsky Brothers
Epilogue: Perestroika and Beyond

Be the first to know

Get the latest updates on new releases, special offers, and media highlights when you subscribe to our email lists!

Sign up here for updates about the Press