Mark Azbel: escape of a Soviet Jew; Refusenik: Trapped in the Soviet Union, by Mark Ya. Azbel. Foreword by Freeman Dyson. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company. $17.95
Notwithstanding the facts that V. I. Lenin himself may have had a Jewish grandfather, and that Lenin for whatever reason spoke vehemently against anti-Semitism, to be a Jew in the Soviet Union today entails subjection to a daunting mixture of conditioned but informal hatred by the Gentile populace, and tireless systematic persecution by the government.
For a Jew to be a promising scientist, especially a physicist, is the best of all ways to gain some immunity from persecution, and a share of those precious material blessings USSR saves for its elite. But to be a scientist andm a Jew who has applied for an exit visa to emigrate to Israel, been refused, and then contested that refusal, is to face slow torture, professional ruin, and ultimate personal disaster. Mark Ya. Azbel is a theoretical physicist, a Jew, a proud Israeli, and -- to his vast relief -- a former soviet citizen.
He is also, judging from his autobiography, an extraordinary man: a living cross between Joseph Heller's Yossarian ("Catch 22"), Arthur Koestler's Rubashov ("Darkness at Noon"), and Ken Kesey's McMurphy ("One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest"). Azbel first applied for permission to emigrate in 1972, and then for five years he trudged the Kafkaesque corridors of Soviet officialdom, battling the world's most efficiently malign bureaucracy. His only weapons were wit, courage, stubborn energy, and a few selfless friends who shared his situation, among them computer scientist Victor Brailovsky.