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Brushtein, Aleksandra Iakovlevna

(1884–1968), Russian playwright, memoirist, and teacher. Aleksandra Brushtein was born in Vilna, where her father, Iakov Vygodskii (Wygodzki; 1857–1941), was a physician and a leading figure in the Jewish community. She graduated from the History–Philosophy Department of the Higher Women’s Courses in Saint Petersburg. After the revolution, Brushtein concentrated on educational work and writing, organizing 173 literacy schools for adults and writing extensively for children and adolescents.

Especially popular in their day were Brushtein’s plays for children, including Prodolzhenie sleduet (Continuation to Follow; 1933), Goluboe i rozovoe (Blue and Pink; 1936), and the dramatization for children’s theater of world classics such as Don Kikhot (Don Quixote; 1928), Khizhina diadi Toma (Uncle Tom’s Cabin; 1948), and Zhestokii mir (Cruel World, an adaption from Dickens; 1954). Overall, more than 60 of her plays and dramatizations were performed, and an anthology of them appeared in Moscow in 1956. Her memoirs, Stranitsy proshlogo (Pages from the Past) appeared in 1952, and an autobiographical trilogy, Doroga ukhodit v dal’ . . . (The Road Goes off into the Distance . . .), was issued between 1955 and 1959.

Brushtein’s plays, straightforward and openly didactic, were once very popular on the children’s stage, though they have since been forgotten. In essence she is now known for her trilogy Doroga ukhodit v dal’ . . . , with the title of the first volume (1955) having become the name for the entire set (the other two titles are V rassvetnyi chas [At the Hour of Dawn; 1958] and Vesna [Spring; 1959]). Its subject is typical of a coming-of-age novel: the biography of a girl from the time she enters school until she graduates. The action takes place in Vilna at the end of the nineteenth century. The novel’s hero, the girl’s father, is the doctor Iakov Ianovskii, whom she worships (the prototype was the author’s own father). However, the hero of the novel, unlike his model, was not active in politics and in place of the former’s Jewish interests he appears simply as a bearer of the values of the liberal intelligentsia.

The novel is written lightly and with humor, and depicts historical events through the eyes of a child. It creates a convincing picture of the life of the liberal Russian and Russian Jewish intelligentsia at the end of the nineteenth century, as well as of the life of multiethnic Vilna in that period. Brushtein refers calmly and naturally to many subjects that the Soviets half-forbade or relegated to silence. For decades, her book served young Soviet Jews as an almost singular source of information about the Pale of Settlement, the numerus clausus, the Passover Seder, and the identity of such people as Alfred Dreyfus and the revolutionary Hirsh Lekert.

Doroga ukhodit v dal’ . . . served as a genuine codex of values of Russian liberal intelligentsia, and, in the narrower sense, of the values of the Russian Jewish intellectual community that emerged in the middle of the nineteenth century. The novel, which was one of the most important books for a generation of young people, preserved in many ways the cultural traditions of the Russian Jewish intelligentsia under Soviet conditions that threatened it in so many ways.

Suggested Reading

Aleksandra Brushtein, Doroga ukhodit v dal’ (Moscow, 1965); L. Kabo, “A. Ia. Brushtein,” Lekhaim 1 (2001).



Translated from Russian by Alice Nakhimovsky