Tag Archives: american immigrant history

Review: Panic in a Suitcase: A Novel

Panic in a Suitcase: A Novel, by Yelena Akhtiorskaya, revolves around the Nasmertov family, who have emigrated from Odessa, a city by the sea, to Brighton Beach, another city by the sea. Brighton Beach was often called “Little Odessa”.

The comfort level of the area is one reason the family chose the location. An immigrant from Odessa could find anything that their homeland offered, in Brighton Beach. From food to furniture to household items to clothes and material goods, it could all be had.

This very fact is what held the elders of the family within its fold. It is what prompted them to convince their son, Pasha, to emigrate from Odessa. Pasha, on the other hand, procrastinated, and waited until the last minute.

His role in the book is one of a man who doesn’t seem to be motivated by anything in life, positive or otherwise. He lags behind in everything. He doesn’t quite get the situation or the city he has arrived in, and has no desire to find out the aspects of life within the realm of Brighton Beach.

The story deals with the way that life is perceived during a time of assimilation. It brings the reader snippets of the procedures to assimilate, and also yearnings for what once was in the homeland. The desire for change does not necessarily overrule the comfort of what the homeland held in a person’s daily life.

The reader is taken on a twenty-year journey through the Nasmertov family’s treks to fit in, to understand the cultural divide between homeland and their new land. The journey is humorous at times, but only to the extent of familial actions, and also how they are viewed by those around them. The humor is more of an enhancement of what it means to survive in a country so unlike the one you emigrated from.

Nostalgia is a strong undertone within the pages. Comfort levels of every aspect is depicted. Familial bonds do not necessarily provide the comfort one needs.

Yelena Akhtiorskaya’s debut novel, Panic in a Suitcase, is filled with descriptions of Coney Island and Brighton Beach, that one can capture through their five senses. The novel is also an examination of the immigrant and their experiences and endeavors to fit in, despite strong memories of the past.

I enjoyed reading about the cultural issues, and enjoyed the word-imagery regarding the beach cities. I am extremely familiar with those cities and with the cultural aspects depicted in the story. I, myself, have fond memories of Brighton Beach in the late 1940s and early 1950s. The novel transported me back to times past.

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Filed under Fiction, Historical Fiction, Immigrant Experience, Jewish History, Jewish Immigrant, Lorri's Blog, Novels

Book Review – The Promised Land

the promised land The Promised Land, by Mary Antin,, is an exceptional book in many respects.

Mary Antin was a distinguished writer in her time, and her account of the immigrant experience is unique on several levels.

The first half of the book deals with her childhood in Russia, before emigrating. The second half describes her experience assimilating into American life, and her struggles with religion and daily interactions.

It was obvious to me that Antin projected two faces. One face is the face of her cultural background resulting from her upbringing in Russia. The other face is her face that she projects within her new environment in America, as she tries to settle in and not be defined as a “greenhorn”.

Although Antin seems to be a bit self-centered at times, I still feel that the book is an excellent resource into the immigrant experience. She is cognitive of her appearance, her attitude and her ability to show two sides of herself. That does not diminish the fact that she continues to interact in that manner. It is her way of assimilating into her external surroundings, and her way of retaining some of her cultural heritage at home.

Antin’s descriptions are filled with clarity, and considering the era in which the book was written, I found it to be an excellent example of an immigrant trying to find her way in a new land, a new cultural environment and world.

She was a fast learner, and she endeavored to be seen as an American in every facet. She shed her Russian background as quickly as possible, shed her accent as best she could, and succeeded in displaying herself naturally fitting into her new environment.

Her public education was her starting point, and from there she became involved in social causes. She rallied for the allies, she rallied for immigration rights, other causes, and her voice was a beacon for the immigrant.

The Promised Land
was a successful book for its time, and Antin revealed how a young girl managed to survive and respond to the new life presented her, and to the cultural situations she faced.

Some may find the book uninteresting, and find it to be lacking. I read it with the knowledge it was written in 1912. I found it to be a book written by a woman who realizes she is self-centered, and admits it within the pages. Yet, that very trait helped her gain footing and helped her to fit into her new surroundings. Therein lies the uniqueness.

Mary Antin
was was lauded for her writing, in her own life time.

I recommend The Promised Land for its important historical and cultural content. I found it to be a fascinating look into the assimilation experience.

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December 10, 2012 – 26 Kislev, 5773

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Filed under Autobiography, Book Reviews, Judaism, Non-Fiction, Uncategorized