Monday, March 30, 2015

Panic in a Suitcase by Yelena Akhtiorskaya

by Alida Hanson

An absolutely hilarious novel about a Russian family who settles in Brooklyn in the 80s/90s during an era when it seems like the entire population of Odessa has recreated their city in Brighton Beach. The novel focuses on three generations of the Nasmertov family, including the uncle/son Pasha, a famous poet, who stays in Odessa.

The author has a gift for description, juxtaposition, and blending plot elements to make a point.  I laughed at loud at the scene in the banya (bath house) where mother Marina and daughter Frida spend an afternoon:

"For those who have only imagined the scene inside a ladies' locker room, the actuality was a handful of half-squatting women struggling with their locks. The key never fit, and then the key got stuck. There was an atmosphere of stifled panic. Bathroom doors were left flung open, as if the occupants had fled."

I love the literature of the of this generation of Russian immigrants: Gary Shteyngart, Lara Vapnyar, Masha Gessen, the literary magazine N+1 (I know I'm leaving some out). The author of Panic in a Suitcase, Yelena Akhtiorskaya, deserves a place in the pantheon. I recommend this to anyone who is looking for a funny read and has an affinity for Russian literature and culture.

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