More than a retelling of Vassily’s story, Young Heroes is a memoir of Halberstadt’s family and the country where he was born — a loving and mournful account that’s also skeptical, surprising and often very funny ... confident, precisely drawn imagery that will make you remember what Halberstadt describes in his own unforgettable terms ... A thread that runs through Halberstadt’s book is the inheritance of trauma...another version of the historical record that gets inscribed into our genetic code. Those parts of the book are elegantly delineated, but it’s the unexpected specificity of Halberstadt’s observations that ultimately make this memoir as lush and moving as it is.
In the ultimate act of self-retrospection, Halberstadt...investigates his identity by traveling to Russia, his country of birth, to interview family and document the horrifying effects of the world wars ... Such a personal history stands apart from other titles because, although the journey is framed as a family narrative, historically detailed episodes are impressively illuminated. Particularly commendable is the archival research on Vilnius, Lithuania’s capital ... An impeccably executed and unique genealogy that encourages us to examine the history that informs us of who we are.
Halberstadt twitches aside the dismissive curtain we tend to drape over the older members of our families ... What he finds is startling but ought to be familiar in its own way to each of us ... As Halberstadt weaves his familial background out of several trips across Russia and Eastern Europe in a quest for information, a curious effect occurs. Time becomes less linear and seems to lie around us, piled in no particular order, like snow. The past is still present with us; nothing is truly left behind.
...[an] illuminating but dense memoir ... Halberstadt is at his best when writing about his own youth, and his interviews with family members are affecting. Readers who can stick with this when it gets into the genealogical weeds will find much to appreciate in this insightful and moving narrative.