Chaim Potok’s “The Gates of November” is an extremely intense non-fiction book, written about a Jewish family. The book delves into the father/son relationship that Potok is well known for in his books. Taken from interviews with family members and friends, the book is an extremely detailed account of the social stratum, survival as Jews in antisemitic Russia, and family bonds.
Solomon Slepak is an old-school Russian Jew, a diehard Bolshevik. He became a Marxist when he emigrated to the America, and then returned to the Soviet Union. He was a stubborn and difficult man, and became a staunch and renowned Communist Party member, despite the fact that he was Jewish. Solomon Slepak resists the ideals of his son, Volodya, who is a “refusenik”, and basically disowns him.
Volodya sees what is occurring in the Soviet Union and wants no part of it. He wants to take his wife and two sons and emigrate to Israel. Thus he begins the process of paperwork and documentation. His bid to emigrate is refused, and he and his wife, Masha, become activists, working to try to help other Jews who are refused permission to emigrate, under Josef Stalin’s relentless rule.
Due to his activities, he is sent to a remote part of Siberia, where the conditions take their toll on his health. Masha asks for permission to be with him, and is granted such. He is exiled for over five years, under the harshest of conditions, not only weather, but food and daily sustenance and necessities (this articulation is putting it mildly).
Once he returns home, he tries to seek work, and finds menial jobs here and there, that don’t last for any length of time. He applies for permission to emigrate, once again. The process drags on for years, and we are given an overview of the social, political and diplomatic events and results during the years that go by, while he waits for a positive outcome.
I could articulate more on “The Gates of November“, but I suggest you read it yourself in order to grasp the depth of the story. “The Gates of November” is quite extreme in detail Potok has shown us the degrees people will go to in order to manipulate others by leaving out none of the horrible events or descriptive word images.
Potok infuses the intensity of the time period under Josef Stalin’s rule, he details the depth of life under the most adverse and harshest of circumstances within the confines of the brutal Stalin reign. His book is based on personal accounts, taped and written interviews, videos, etc., in order to bring exactness to “The Gates of November“. It is not an easy book to read, due to the brutally detailed circumstances and events. But it is a book most definitely worth reading, not only in comprehending the historical aspect regarding Jews under Soviet rule, but for the ongoing father/son relationship and family dynamics that Chaim Potok always manages to write so brilliantly about.
“The Gates of November” is a masterful telling of Jewish familial life and dynamics under extreme social circumstances. It is both horrific and inspirational, and brings to the forefront the degrees of determination people have in order to obtain their goals. I highly recommend this compelling book to everyone.