Wait­ing for Amer­i­ca: A Sto­ry of Emigration

  • Review
By – February 24, 2012
Just after his twen­ti­eth birth­day in 1987, Max­im Shray­er and his fam­i­ly were sud­den­ly grant­ed per­mis­sion to leave Moscow after nine years as refus­niks. They were not per­mit­ted to take much with them — some cash, clothes, memen­tos, and an unusu­al­ly heavy trunk, bear­ing a sur­prise addi­tion to their par­ty. Over the next three months, they would meet an eclec­tic cast of Jew­ish char­ac­ters on their own exo­dus­es from the Sovi­et Union. The fam­i­ly was housed by JIAS (Jew­ish Immi­gra­tion Aid Soci­ety) in the low-rent dis­tricts of Vien­na and Rome, and in the unlike­ly Ital­ian beach resort of Ladis­poli. Not even a string of furtive love affairs could take the edge off Shrayer’s anx­i­ety as the fam­i­ly wait­ed for its papers to Amer­i­ca and tried to imag­ine how they would sur­vive. His joy at new free­doms in the West, the shock of mate­r­i­al plen­ty, his vis­its to long-imag­ined his­tor­i­cal sights and watch­ing Amer­i­can movies are tem­pered by a keen aware­ness of the toll state­less­ness and pover­ty were tak­ing on his fam­i­ly. His par­ents, who strug­gled with Eng­lish, would face a loss of sta­tus and their iden­ti­ty as well-known intel­lec­tu­als. Now, after twen­ty suc­cess­ful years as an Amer­i­can, Shray­er rem­i­nisces about that dif­fi­cult tran­si­tion­al peri­od with charm, insight, and unex­pect­ed humor. A love­ly read.
Lisa Pearl Rosen­baum’s debut nov­el, A Day of Small Begin­nings, was pub­lished by Lit­tle, Brown and Com­pa­ny in Novem­ber, 2006. She lives in Los Ange­les, California.

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