(Masterpieces of American Literature)

The Gates of November, whose title is derived from a line in a poem by Aleksandr Pushkin, recounts the experiences and ordeals of Solomon Slepak and his son, Volodya. Solomon, born in 1893 in a remote Russian village, was a faithful communist whose loyalty enabled him to rise quickly within the communist bureaucracy that controlled the Soviet Union after 1918. Solomon served in the military before assuming a diplomatic post in the government. Finally, he became a propagandist for the Russian news agency, Tass.

Solomon led a charmed life. When Josef Stalin set about cleansing the communist ruling class of Jews, Solomon was not eliminated. During this time, he maintained his unswerving allegiance to Bolshevism and managed to make his Jewishness inconspicuous. He went so far as to cease to have anything to do with his son when Volodya announced his desire to leave Russia and to relocate in Israel.

Volodya and his wife endured nightmarish reverses because of their decision to leave the Soviet Union. They were not only denied exit visas for eighteen years, but during this period they also were dismissed from their jobs, forced to divorce each other, and exiled to Siberia before being released after serving five years of confinement there and sent to external exile on the Mongolian border. It was in this situation that the Potoks found the couple when they visited them for one memorable evening in 1985.

When the Potoks took their leave of the Slepaks, they thought that they would never see them again, and they were convinced that the couple would never be permitted to leave Russia. Shortly after the Potok’s visit, however, the Slepeks were granted the exit visa they needed for their flight to Israel.

The Gates of November is an important documentary. It demonstrates how a corrupt political system can turn ordinary people into dissidents who can be controlled only by the most punitive measures. Corrupt governments can exist only through reducing the populace into a group of easily controlled conformists, and this state is achieved through constant intimidation.

The Gates of November Bibliography

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Abramson, Edward A. Chaim Potok. Boston: Twayne, 1986.

Greenstein, Stephen J. “The Chosen”: Notes. Lincoln, Nebr.: Cliff Notes, 1999.

Kauvar, Elaine M. “An Interview with Chaim Potok.” Contemporary Literature 28 (Fall, 1986): 290-317.

Potok, Chaim. “A Reply to a Semi-Sympathetic Critic.” Studies in American Jewish Literature 2 (Spring, 1976): 30-34.

Sternlicht, Sanford V. Chaim Potok: A Critical Companion. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2000.

Studies in American Jewish Literature 4 (1985). Special Potok issue.

Walden, Daniel, ed. Conversations with Chaim Potok. Jackson: University of Mississippi Press, 2001.