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Available now for the first time in English, Doctor Levitin is a modern classic in Jewish literature. A major work of late twentieth-century Russian and Jewish literature since its first publication in Israel in 1986, it has also seen three subsequent Russian editions. It is the first in David Shrayer-Petrov’s trilogy of novels about the struggle of Soviet Jews and the destinies of refuseniks. In addition to being the first novel available in English that depicts the experience of the Jewish exodus from the former USSR, Doctor Levitin is presented in an excellent translation that has been overseen and edited by the author’s son, the bilingual scholar Maxim D. Shrayer.
Doctor Levitin is a panoramic novel that portrays the Soviet Union during the late 1970s and early 1980s, when the USSR invaded Afghanistan and Soviet Jews fought for their right to emigrate. Doctor Herbert Levitin, the novel’s protagonist, is a professor of medicine in Moscow whose non-Jewish wife, Tatyana, comes from the Russian peasantry. Shrayer-Petrov documents with anatomical precision the mutually unbreachable contradictions of the Levitins’ mixed marriage, which becomes an allegory of Jewish-Russian history. Doctor Levitin’s Jewishness evolves over the course of the novel, becoming a spiritual mission. The antisemitism of the Soviet regime forces the quiet intellectual and his family to seek emigration. Denied permission to leave, the family of Doctor Levitin is forced into the existence of refuseniks and outcasts, which inexorably leads to their destruction and a final act of defiance and revenge on the Soviet system.
A significant contribution to the works of translated literature available in English, David Shrayer-Petrov’s Doctor Levitin is ideal for any reader of fiction and literature. It will hold particular interest for those who study Jewish or Russian literature, culture, and history and Cold War politics.