In 1987, a young Jewish man, the central figure in this captivating book, leaves Moscow for good with his parents. They celebrate their freedom in opulent Vienna and spend two months in Rome and the coastal resort of Ladispoli. While waiting in Europe for a U.S. refugee visa, the book's twenty-year-old poet quenches his thirst for sexual and cultural discovery. Through his colorful Austrian and Italian misadventures, he experiences the shock, thrill, and anonymity of being in a Western democracy, running into European roadblocks while shedding Soviet social taboos. As he anticipates entering a new life in America, he movingly describes the baggage that exiles bring with them, from the inescapable family ties to the sweet cargo of memory. An emigration story, "Waiting for America" explores the rapid expansion of identity at the cusp of a new, American life. Told in a revelatory first-person narrative, "Waiting for America" is also a vibrant love story, in which the romantic protagonist is torn between Russian and Western women.
Filled with poignant humor and reinforced by hope and idealism, the author's confessional voice carries the reader in the same way one is carried through literary memoirs like Tolstoy's "Childhood", "Boyhood", "Youth", Hemingway's "Moveable Feast", or Nabokov's "Speak", "Memory". Babel, Sebald, and Singer - all transcultural masters of identity writing - are the coordinates that help to locate Waiting for America on the greater map of literature.
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(229mm x 152mm x 21mm)
Syracuse University Press
Publisher: Syracuse University Press
Country of Publication:
US Kirkus Review »
A Russian-Jewish family spends a summer in Italy as they wait for their U.S. visas.In 1987, after waiting nine years to be permitted to emigrate, the 20-year-old author, along with his aunt, grandmother and younger cousin, boarded a plane from Moscow to Vienna. They waited outside the city for several weeks, then moved to a crumbling pensione in the slums behind Rome's Termini Station, then into an overpriced apartment in the resort town of Ladispoli. Their belongings were shipped to relatives in Providence, R.I., where they eventually settled. Without knowing when their visas would be approved by the U.S. government, they were understandably anxious - the author's father had difficulty sleeping, and his mother obsessed about the state of their various apartments. But for the author, on the brink of manhood, the European journey was an eye-opening adventure. Given the opportunity to experience a new country for the first time, he wandered the tiny streets of Trastevere, haggling for groceries at the Plaza Vittorio Emmanuelle and relaxing in the Villa Borghese. He also embarked on affairs with an Italian beauty named Rafaella and with an old flame and fellow Russian named Lana. The author's story provides plenty of fodder for an engaging book - a bored group of Russian emigres in an Italian beach town, a violinist who smuggles himself into the country via the author's aunt's oversized suitcase, the gay Azerbaijani teenager who longs for his lover back in Baku - but Shrayer taints the narrative with oversentimentalization. More importantly, he glosses over the actual meat of the story - the reasons for his family's emigration - by calling the memories too painful, an admission that is inconsistent with the book's self-consciously serious tone.Nostalgia bests storytelling in this meandering memoir. (Kirkus Reviews)
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Author Biography - Maxim D. Shrayer
Maxim D. Shrayer's books include The World of Nabokov's Stories, Russian Poet/Soviet Jew, and three collections of Russian poetry. A bilingual author and translator, Shrayer recently edited An Anthology of Jewish-Russian Literature. Shrayer is professor of Russian and English and chair of the Department of Slavic and Eastern Languages at Boston College. He lives in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts, with his wife and daughter.