Tears Over Russia: A Search for Family and the Legacy of Ukraine’s Pogroms – by Lisa Brahin – independent book review – non-fiction

I was so looking forward to this book based on both my own genealogy work and my personal interest in learning more about pogroms. (There seems to be very little written about these violent anti-semitic acts, certainly not in the historical fiction genre.) But I’m afraid I was very disappointed. Awarded three stars on Goodreads.

To completely ‘fess up, I wound up skimming parts of this book. Just keep that in mind if you read on.

First, my mistake. Initially, I thought this was historical fiction and I was looking forward to a fictionalized and emotionally rich account that would show me the human side of the thousands of Jews killed during the period of the pogroms. Unfortunately for me, the book turned out to be NON-fiction. Not my preferred genre.

Second, I found this prose to be very dry — a compilation of chronological facts taken from the author’s considerable and detailed research into her family history. With tons of people (some with identical names) to keep track of. 

Pale of Settlement
Image from Wikipedia

On the plus side, I give the author kudos for shedding light on this seldom addressed chapter of history. And I did get a general sense of the impoverished and ever-threatened lives of Jews living in the Pale of Settlement, along with the many and time-consuming difficulties they faced in trying to leave their homeland for Palestine, another European country, or the United States. I just didn’t expect to have to also wade through the detailed stories of the lives of the author’s many relatives once they came to the U.S. To me, it all became tedious. 

I wish Lisa Brahin had used her family story to illuminate the wider picture of Jewish persecution during this period. Instead, reading her book felt more like getting through a too-long and extremely personal term paper.

More about the author and Jewish genealogist, Lisa Brahin.


  1. Hi Toby,

    Thanks for your insightful reviews. It’s unfortunate that you thought this was going to be fiction. The cover says Non-Fiction all the way, including the subtitle, but your comment about not finding enough books on the pogroms, do you mean from Eastern Europe? Was that your interest? Because there is PLENTY of hist fic in Western Europe.

    Let me know if you want some recommendations. It’s kind of my specialty. All the best, Chrystyna Lucyk-Berger http://www.inktreks.com/my-books



    1. I was particularly interested in the pogroms in the Pale of Settlement. If you have recommendations, please send them along. Thanks.


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