Skyhorse Publishing, New York, published a book by Lisa Paul Swimming in the Daylight: An American Student, A Soviet-Jewish Dissident, and the Gift of Hope (Copyright © 2011 by Lisa C. Paul, ISBN 978-1-61608-203-1). We offer you a review of the book written by Leonid Stonov, former Moscow Jewish activist and refusenik. You can also watch an author video, which includes a clip from an interview of Inna Meiman, a main heroine of the book: http://bit.ly/hwxXde.
Swimming in the Daylight: An American Student, A Soviet-Jewish Dissident, and the Gift of Hope, by Lisa Paul, is a brilliant addition to the books about the Soviet refuseniks’ struggle for freedom that have recently been published in the United States and Israel.
I admired many parts of this book, and could not tear myself away from it—I postponed all other things just to keep reading. From one perspective, it is an overview of the tragic and great story of the human rights struggle in the Soviet Union. From another perspective, it is the detailed description of a single family’s fate (the family of Inna and Naum Meiman). Both perspectives illustrate the terrible life conditions that existed under the Soviet communistic totalitarian regime. Ultimately, however, Swimming in the Daylight is the story of Lisa’s and Inna’s historic victory for the fight for dignity and humanity.
Lisa Paul, a Catholic-American student, lived in Moscow in mid-1980’s and worked as a nanny for an American family. She became a friend of Inna Meiman, who was her Russian language teacher. Lisa soon learned that Inna suffered from cancer and needed immediate chemotherapy treatment in the United States (there were no such successful strategy and medicines available to her in the Soviet Union). Inna’s husband, Naum was a well-known mathematician and dissident and was one of the early members of the Moscow Helsinki Watch Group. The Meimans were long-term refuseniks, people who were many times refused exit visas by the Soviet government.
Being very kind and sensitive to the pains of other people, Lisa quickly understood the specific character of the dissident struggle and Jewish movement for emigration. The pages in her book are full of interesting details of this struggle, some so touching that readers will be moved to tears. Lisa writes about the life of dissidents with the highest level of sympathy and kindness, which is especially evident as she describes an evening she spent with the famous human rights activist and hero Larissa Bogoraz.
Lisa returned to the States and her college studies in the summer of 1985 and sought to organize a broad coalition for Inna’s immediate release from the Soviet Union. She staged a long hunger-strike to draw attention to Inna’s plight and to protest the Soviet’s refusal to issue Inna a visa. Lisa’s actions were important and successful - they caused White House and State Department officials to take action, and U.S. Senators and Congressmen to continue and reinforce their efforts on behalf of the Meimans and other refuseniks, especially sick people.
Lisa also had close contact with the main Jewish American organizations that led the campaign for freedom of emigration and her book emphasizes the special role of the Union of Councils for Soviet Jews (UCSJ), National Conference (NCSJ), and other organizations that were involved in the international fight for the Soviet Jews freedom.
Finally, Gorbachev’s government issued the exit visa for Inna, but it was too late – she died soon after arriving to the United States. This beautifully written book shows the significant role the seemingly small stream of dissidents and Jewish activists changed the life in the Soviet Union. This story is especially important now as several countries-successors of the USSR- especially Russia, are beginning to return to the totalitarian forms of ruling.
Most of all, Swimming in the Daylight teaches that the human spirit can triumph over insurmountable obstacles and demonstrates that it is possible for a person to live in accordance with his or her conscience.
I am extremely grateful to Lisa Paul for her devotion to the memory of the Meimans’ family, other dissidents, and refuseniks.
Dr. Leonid Stonov,
Union of Council for Soviet Jews’ International Director of the Human Rights Bureaus in the former Soviet Union,
and former long-term refusenik.