Friday, December 4, 2015

A Review of 'Panic In A Suitcase' by Yelena Akhtiorskaya (Audio Book)

"In this account of two decades in the life of an immigrant household, the fall of communism and the rise of globalization are artfully reflected in the experience of a single family.  Ironies, subtle and glaring, are revealed: the Nasmertovs left Odessa for Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, with a huge sense of finality, only to find that the divide between the old world and the new is not nearly as clear-cut as they thought.  The dissolution of the Soviet Union makes returning just a matter of a plane ticket, and the Russian-owned shops in their adopted neighborhood stock even the most obscure comforts of home.  Pursuing the American Dream once meant giving up everything, but does the dream still work if the past is always within reach?

If the Nasmertov parents can afford only to look forward, learning the rules of aspiration, the family's youngest, Frida, can only look back.

In striking, arresting prose loaded with fresh and inventive turns of phrase, Yelena Akhtiorskaya has written the first great novel of Brighton Beach: a searing portrait of hope and ambition, and a profound exploration of the power and limits of language itself, its ability to make connections across cultures and generations."

It took me a while to figure out what this book was about.  The story is centered on a Russian family who moves to the United States after the fall of the U.S.S.R. and how they manage to straddle two cultures and keep up with the rules of both.  For me, knowing pretty much nothing about Russian culture, this was a glimpse into that and a little bit of a learning experience for me.  Of course, this family probably isn't representative of all Russian immigrant families, but even so.  More importantly, this book is about what it's like to emigrate and readjust to your new and adoptive home.  The thought of this family seems to be that you need to leave absolutely everything behind when you move away from your country of origin.  But that's not the case.  I don't know if that was the case before, but it's not the case now.  You might leave your home, but your culture is part of you.  You can't just shed it like an old coat and go get a new, more in-style one.  It depends on where you've grown up, I think.  The older generations in this particular family felt the need to move forward and do things the American way, although still hanging on to what I've gathered to be "Russian-isms," since they can't be shed, for better or for worse.  There's a clinging to tradition.  They still celebrate the same holidays that they did, but then there is almost the expectation, particularly for members of the younger generation, like Frida, to take up certain lines of work (Frida attends medical school and hates it). 

Frida was the most interesting to me, particularly as she got a little older.  Even though she lives with her Russian family, she was born and raised in the U.S., surrounded by different mannerisms and traditions and values.  So it's more of a struggle for her to figure out where she belongs.  Is she American?  Is she Russian?  Do her family's values mean the same thing to her as they do to her parents and grandparents?  What does it mean to be a first generation American citizen in her family?  This book is an interesting exploration of these questions.

I don't know yet if this is a book I will pick up again, but it was an intriguing read for now.  Maybe I'll have to read a hard copy version of this as opposed to listening to an MP3 track of the book.

I give 'Panic in a Suitcase':
Thanks for Reading!


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