When to read memoirs

… impression of the book  “A backpack, a bear, and 8 craters of vodka”

I thought that the best time to read biographies and memoirs was retirement.

It seems I was mistaken.

More than a month ago I received an announcement in my work email. Bridgewater University (or their bookclub) invited people to talk with the author about a book  “A backpack, a bear, and 8 craters of vodka” by Lev Golinkin. The  book is about the immigration of a Jewish family from the Soviet (back then) Ukraine.

Everything about Russia and Ukraine is on air now, so I decided to read it.

At the very beginning, the author told non-Russian readers about the life of a Soviet kid. And I, who grew up in the October-pioneer childhood, was bored to read about it. I knew perfectly well what Octobrists, pioneers and even the Komsomols were.

With the zoom meeting date approaching, I pulled myself together, checked out the book again and made myself read. And, surprisingly, I liked it.

I even cried a couple of times. I actually became very sensitive lately. Maybe I have reached a certain age. Maybe  it’s just an opportunity to stop pretending to be an Iron Lady and become a weak woman for a change. Who knows. 

But the book made me cry and feel sorry for all Russian kids and adults, citizens and refugees, and myself of course. Some things you cannot vanish from your memory. 

There were several moments in the book when I knew exactly what the author felt. I read the book and thought “I was in his shoes”.

I’m not going to retell you the book, but I am going to point out a few moments that touched me. 


1) warm clothes.

People say, there is no bad weather, there are bad clothes. My situation with warm clothes was different from the author’s situation. My mother thought I was picky. Maybe. But in Russia, “Books are judged by their covers.” If I didn’t want to dress in stores, I had to sew/knit myself or freeze. Despite the fact that Russia is very different now, the quality of goods depends on what you can afford. And there were and are more poor people than rich.

2) immigration – hope, police – fear.

The author of the book was 8 years old when his family managed to leave Soviet Ukraine. Lev was not afraid of immigration. His parents faced obstacles and solved them, and Lev’s job was to be patient and “be okay.” The whole family was determined.They had hope for a better future. They were not afraid of immigration, but adults were afraid of the police.

In 2013, I had to fly to Moscow to the American embassy for a visa. I was scared. I was afraid of the big city, which I had never been to before. I was afraid of the subway, I had never ridden it before. But most importantly, I was afraid of the police. I wasn’t going to do anything illegal. I understand that you can find good/bad people everywhere. But rumors about the impunity of police officers are always frightening. So I really didn’t want any communication with people from this department, even to ask directions. It was in September.

In October I flew to America. And I wasn’t afraid at all. I had hope. Hope, uncertainty, a chance for something better, a better life, a better relationship.

3) need to learn language.

The author spoke about the need to learn the language of the country in which you live, regardless of age, but the sooner the better. I just agree with him here.

I am glad that there is no Russian community in New Bedford. I did meet several Russian-speaking people, but I had to learn English in order to be able to become an equal member of society.

In my blog you can find a few articles about my accent. I try to pretend it’s okay to have it. In reality, I’m disappointed in myself. I understand that my accent will stay with me forever. But I want to reduce it. So, I am sending my wish to the Universe (to meet a volunteer who can help me. LOL. The work of a non-volunteer costs $ 40 per hour).

In conclusion, I am glad that I have read this book. I found some similarities with the events that Lev’s family experienced. I found out how the refugees were leaving the country. And most importantly, I’m not the only one who brought a bear from Russia.

Author: Elena

Hi, My name is Elena. I am Russian living in the US. My blog is about my life and experience. This is my new hobby. So, please, don't be too hard on me. Thanks

2 thoughts on “When to read memoirs”

  1. Always love hearing what you are up to and your perspective on things. Think of you often!

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