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Hiding in the Spotlight: Memoir as It Should Be

The story of a musical prodigy's escape from Hitler strikes all the right notes and needs to be shared with the next generation.

by
Mary Grabar

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January 24, 2010 - 12:00 am
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Hiding in the Spotlight: A Musical Prodigy’s Story of Survival 1941-1946
By Greg Dawson
Pegasus Books
278 pages; $25

Wending my way past booths for the Revolutionary Communist Party USA, for Revolution Book Store, and for self-published seers and advisors promising inner and world peace, I was drawn to one booth at the Decatur (Georgia) Book Festival last fall by a large map featuring the Ukraine.

Here in Dixie, where “immigrant” means someone from Buffalo or Cleveland, or in my neighborhood, Africa, I have scant reminders of my childhood in Rochester, New York, where my best friend’s name was the common Ukrainian one, Luba. It was as close as I could get at my public school to my native Slovenia, then part of communist Yugoslavia.

I chatted with the woman, who told me the book was about her life in the Ukraine as a Jew who escaped the Nazi purge. It was written by her son.

Oh no, I thought, someone else who feels his family story is unique, yet who probably writes it down as if every reader brought to it the interest cousin Bob has.

But my skepticism waned as I chatted with the author and his mother. At a minimum, I thought that the $25.00 payment would serve a good cause.

That was on Saturday evening. I finished the book early Monday morning.

I grew up knowing people like Zhanna, the subject of the book, who have never wanted to go back to their places of birth because memories of brutality remain. But we are fortunate that her eldest son, Greg Dawson, did, for he has written a book that combines memoir and history into a narrative that is as spellbinding as a novel.

It is a story that needs to be preserved, especially as the teenage refugees of World War II enter their eighties, their experiences ignored by the multiculturalists who dominate education and publishing.

Hiding in the Spotlight is the story of victims of ideological brothers, Stalin and Hitler, who shared a worldwide vision grandiose in ambition.

But this is something that the reader herself draws out of the story, for Dawson never hammers an ideological point, thereby superbly demonstrating that first commandment of the writer: “show, don’t tell.”

Dawson’s mother, a musical prodigy, like millions of others, simply found herself at age 14 a victim of the forces of history and mad ideologues.

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