Last year the blog Books in the City hosted the Immigrant Stories Reading Challenge. Thanks to the challenge, by the year’s end I was inspired to read books that dealt with immigrants from a diverse array of countries including Iran, Azerbaijan, Afghanistan and Hungary. Even after the challenge ended I’ve continued to read about immigrants, whether the books be fiction, nonfiction, or a mixture of both.
Considering how much I enjoy reading these kind of books I guess it should be no surprise to anyone that I jumped all over Lev Golinkin’s memoir, A Backpack, A Bear, and Eight Crates of Vodka when I came across it at the public library.
The good news is overall, I enjoyed Golinkin’s memoir. Much to my satisfaction, he’s another one of those perversely likable individuals with a bit of a self-destructive streak (like Mark Richards in his memoir House of Prayer No. 2 or the protagonist in Thomas Glavinic’s novel Pull Yourself Together) who manages to succeed in spite of himself. His depiction of life in Soviet Ukraine during the twilight years of the USSR made for fascinating reading, as well as his account of how his family escaped to America after first spending time in Austria and Italy. Thankfully, he spent a lot time talking about his life in America as a youth and how hard it was for his family to adjust and eventually thrive in the U.S. Judging by Golinkin’s account, had it not been for the support of various agencies and generous individuals his family never would have made it.
My only complaint with Golinkin’s memoir is its ending. Since I don’t wanna reveal any spoilers, let’s just say by the end of the book you’re expecting Golinkin to achieve some sort of personal enlightenment. However, when it’s all said and done it never really happens. But maybe I’m expecting too much. It’s still a very good book in that it not only tells a lot about what life was like in the former USSR, but also how challenging it can be as an immigrant in an adopted country. And those my friends, are almost always books worth reading.