A Visit to Moscow | Anna Olswanger


A Visit to Moscow adapted by Anna Olswanger from a story by Rabbi Rafael Grossman and illustrated by Yevgenia Nayberg

Out Now from West Margin Press; 72 pages

Content Warning: Anti-Semitism, discussion of concentration camps, censorship, oppression 

About the Author: “Anna Olswanger has been a literary agent since 2005. She started her career at Liza Dawson Associates in Manhattan, and in 2014 launched her own literary agency, Olswanger Literary LLC, where she represents a wide variety of genres, but is currently focused on illustrated books (picture books and graphic novels)” (Bio from the author’s website).

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About the Illustrator: “Yevgenia Nayberg is an award-winning illustrator, painter, and set and costume designer. Her illustrations have appeared in magazines and picture books, and on theatre posters, music albums, and book covers; her paintings, drawings, and illustrations are held in private collections worldwide. As a set and costume designer, she has been the recipient of numerous awards, including the National Endowment for the Arts/TCG Fellowship for Theatre Designers, the Independent Theatre Award, and the Arlin Meyer Award. She has received multiple awards for her picture book illustrations, including three Sydney Taylor Medals. Her debut author/illustrator picture book, Anya’s Secret Society, came out in 2019 and received a Junior Library Guild Gold Selection Award. She’s an author/illustrator of Typewriter and Mona Lisa In New York.  Her latest book, I Hate Borsch! was published in 2022. Born and raised in Kyiv, Ukraine, she now lives in New York City” (Bio from the illustrator’s website). 

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“Because Zev is a Jew, and because my son can remain a Jew only as long as he remains in this room.”

In A Visit to Moscow, American Rabbi Rafael Grossman travels to Moscow to investigate the oppression of the Jewish community in the summer of 1965. The Soviets carefully curate an itinerary for the Rabbi to follow, but Rabbi Grossman slips off to find an acquaintance’s brother Meyer Gurwitz who they have not heard from in ten years. The journey is desolate, and Rabbi Grossman quickly learns that the oppressive impact the Soviet KGB agents have on the Jewish population is harrowing. With Meyer hiding his only son from public to allow him to practice Judaism without persecution. How can Rabbi Grossman save the family and ensure the little boy sees the outside world under the domineering eye of the Soviet Union?

I always enjoy historical fiction adaptations that are based on actual people. The graphic novel A Visit to Moscow checked this box but left me wanting more. I craved details about Rabbi Rafael Grossman’s trip to Moscow and the process he undertook to save the Jewish family by relocating them to Israel. The challenges associated with this process were not represented, which fails to provide the full picture for readers. Framing Rabbi Grossman’s journey to the family as mysterious or an adventure kept me engaged, but in addition to lacking more technical details, the plot also lacked Jewish cultural representation. Seeing some aspects of the Jewish culture or language within the family would have helped to richen the plot and add meaning for the reader. However, my favorite aspect of the graphic novel was the illustrations. The artwork was realistic with a whimsical flare. Color was applied effectively, with Moscow portrayed as dark and murky and the future landscapes as bright and free. I also enjoyed the poetic aspects of the writing at the beginning and end of the story. 

While a little sparse, A Visit to Moscow captures the oppression of the Jewish community in the 1965 Soviet Union and is a good resource to introduce younger readers to the topic of anti-Semitism in a visual format. 

PRR Writer and Editor, Emilee Ceuninck