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.