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Natan Sharansky

Freedom Fighter for Soviet Jews

Natan Sharansky
Blake Hoena By (author)
Daniele Dickmann Illustrated by
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Lerner Publishing Group

Limited ***

7.0 X 10.0 in
64 pg

JUVENILE NONFICTION / Religion / Judaism
JUVENILE NONFICTION / Comics & Graphic Novels / Biography
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High-action story of a true hero who braved jail, separation from his family, and other hardships to help Jews leave the Soviet Union to live in freedom


"Natan Sharanksy: Freedom Fighter for Soviet Jews is a chapter graphic novel which follows the life and struggle of a deeply committed refusenik and human rights activist who was born in 1948 to a Jewish family in the Ukraine when it was unsafe to be Jew. Originally named Anatoly, he was a good student and loved chess, eventually beating many adults. His mother taught him that chess gives you the 'freedom to think,' a concept which would help him tolerate and overcome many difficult situations and punishments throughout his life. He was an excellent student and enjoyed Russian culture, but soon could not deny his Jewish heritage. The Six Day War inspired him to learn about Israel, Jewish history, Hebrew language, and Bible. He began to use his great-grandfather’s name 'Natan.' As his activism and work on behalf of social injustice and the Jews became more pronounced and public, the KGB put him under constant surveillance, and Natan was arrested on March 15, 1977. The book follows the work of his wife Avital who brought the refuseniks’ plight to international attention. The reader follows Natan’s harsh life in prison and labor camps, but always feels his determination and commitment to justice, freedom, and human rights. This is an excellent recounting of a struggle which was won against all odds. The book includes explanations and additional facts on many pages which add to the historical context and provide clarity of Natan’s life and the difficult times he experienced. The language is easy to understand and the illustrations are colorful and clear, although sometimes the characters are a bit exaggerated. There were a few instances where background and facts seem to be missing. There is no mention of his wife Avital at all until Natan is found with their wedding picture when brought to prison. Details about his eventual release at the bridge between West Berlin and East Germany and being reunited with his wife are presented differently than the story has been told. There is a glossary, timeline of events, bibliography, and webography." — Rachel Glasser, AJL Newsletter, retired librarian, Yavneh Academy, Teaneck, NJMagazine

"Stories about heroes are almost always a little sad.

Like many activists, Natan Sharansky was punished nearly every time he fought for the goals he believed in. He was accused publicly of espionage by the Soviet authorities and spent years in prison and in labor camps, separated from his wife. The saddest part is that, for many people, his goals would have qualified as ordinary life: He wanted to live in Israel and practice his religion in the open. He eventually won those rights for himself and other Soviet Jews. Even after being locked up for close to a decade and completing several hunger strikes, he still had a remarkable sense of humor. While the dialogue captures emotional tenors well throughout, the most memorable lines in this graphic biography are often jokes he made. When KGB agents followed him into a taxi, he asked if they’d split the cab fare, and after years of constant surveillance, he said, “It’s like I have two shadows: one that is mine, and the other the KGB’s.” The text in the panels’ narrative boxes is less engaging, often coming across as boilerplate, but the pictures help to capture Sharansky’s personality. Though the likenesses—especially the pictures of presidents—aren’t always convincing, some of the drawings are vivid enough to look nearly alive. The historical figures in the illustrations are almost all light-skinned Soviets, Israelis, and Americans.

This biography sometimes feels like a great song, so sad it can leave you joyous." Kirkus ReviewsJournal

"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, Jewish Book CouncilWebsite

Author Bio

Blake Hoena has written more than one hundred books for children, including an original graphic novel series, Eek & Ack, and graphic novel retellings of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Peter Pan. Blake lives in Saint Paul, Minnesota, with his wife, two dogs, two cats, and hundreds of comics.
Daniele Dickmann is a freelance artist with experience in advertising, movie production, and book illustration. He loves to draw historical stories because they give him a chance to study the personality of the past. Daniele lives and works in Rome, Italy.