Imagine you’re eight years old and trapped behind the Iron Curtain. You and eight of your adult relatives live in a run-down apartment in Communist-ruled Romania. In order to buy food or consumer goods you and your family must wait in endless lines for hours on end. You’re constantly reminded by your parents to never to talk about any of the political discussions that occur in your crowded home, lest the regime’s dreaded Securitate imprison your entire adult household, resulting in you being relegated to a state-run orphanage. While school children in the West engage in nurturing and fun-filled learning exercises, you on the other hand are force-fed a steady diet of Communist propaganda courtesy of a stern disciplinarian. Sick of living under such an oppressive regime, one day your parents tell you your family is emigrating to Israel. You ask why and you’re told, “because we are Jewish.” Stunned, you react with confusion because until then, no one in your entire family has mentioned you’re Jewish. Heck, you don’t even know what the word Jewish means.
Welcome to Haya Leah Molnar’s 2010 memoir Under a Red Sky: Memoir of a Childhood in Communist Romania. Molnar’s memoir is one of several books I stumbled across at my local public library as part of my quest to wrap up a few reading challenges that I joined at mid-year, specifically Rose City Reader’s European Reading Challenge and Black Sheep Dances’ Eastern European Reading Challenge. Even though her memoir is supposedly marketed to YA readers, probably because the narrator, while still a child, tells her story with a maturity and intelligence a bit beyond her years I still found Under a Red Sky to be readable and engrossing. While some readers have compared Molnar’s memoir to Betty Smith’s 1943 classic novel A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, I thought it shared many elements with a few other Jewish memoirs such as Andre Acimen’s Out of Egypt, Lucette Lagnado’s The Man in the Sharkskin Suit and Marina Benjamin’s Last Days in Babylon.
With the end of the year slightly more than two months away, I’m keeping my fingers crossed that I’ll be able to finish strong when it comes to the above mentioned European reading challenges. Hopefully, Under a Red Sky will help inspire to do so.