Dubbed as the Russian Anne Frank on the cover of I Want to Live: The Diary of a Young Girl In Stalin’s Russia, Nina Lugovskaya tells her tale of growing up in turbulent times in Russia, in diary format.
When I saw this book in the library, I knew it would be an interesting read. I had read The Diary of Anne Frank a few times in the past and have always come back to it because I admired Frank’s courage and hope. I only assumed that this book from a Russian perspective would be the same.
While Nina Lugovskaya resembles Anne Frank in some ways, it’s hard to put the two girls in the same category. Anne Frank’s memoir tells, page after page, of the struggles of living as a Jew during the times of the Holocaust. She shows remarkable courage, leaving readers with a feeling of hope. Her writing is thoughtful and portrays the hopes and dreams of a 13-year-old, but is intermingled with the fear of living at such a time. She shows strength for both her and her family and the reader can’t help but continue to read, even though the known end is fatal.
Nina Lugovskaya, however, comes across as angry and shallow. It is only through the interjections and commentaries of publisher that the reader really learns about what was going on during Stalin’s Russia. Nina’s entries begin as the normal diary entries of a 13-year-old girl: talking about school and boys, especially a certain crush. While the reader would expect Nina to grow up and start showing a more grown-up quality, Nina moves on to write about suicide (a continuous topic throughout the book, though more due to the result of boys not liking her or to her “deformity,” than to her hatred or frustration of living in this society), her hatred of Stalin, and her hatred of her parents. It was hard to really feel compassion for Nina as her writings–while obviously very well-written–come across as constant complaining.
While the interjections and commentaries do provide an educational aspect to the otherwise love-stricken writer’s memoirs, at times they can be distracting and I found myself wondering why the person who provided insight to Nina’s diary felt so assured at times to say that Nina was “obviously being sarcastic” or to put thoughts or feelings to Nina’s words, when there might not have been anything of substance at all.
If you’re looking for a historical memoir for a young person, stick to The Diary of Anne Frank. It’s timeless and a classic, sure to teach the readers something of courage, compassion, and hope.