I read a lot of immigration narratives, so I’m always on the hunt for even more stories. And with the current migration crisis unfolding in Afghanistan, it seemed like an appropriate time to read Margarita Gokun Silver’s I Named My Dog Pushkin, a collection of essays exploring her experience coming to the US from the Soviet Union with her family. It’s a strong collection of essays tracing her journey in the late 1980s, fleeing the country’s imminent collapse and the negative effects of Gorbachev’s perestroika and glasnost policies.
What I enjoyed most about this book was how informative it was–having been born after the collapse of the USSR and having high school history teachers rush through the end of the Cold War once they realised there was only a week of school left, it gave me a lot of knowledge about the experiences of Soviet life, especially for minorities. Gokun’s family was marred by the “nationality” line on their passports and the deeply anti-Semitic attitudes present in the USSR, and sadly still lingering in Russia and basically everywhere.
With some well-placed bribes and loopholes in the Soviet emigration system, Gokun and her parents were able to flee as Jewish refugees, stopping briefly in Italy and eventually entering the United States. Only to arrive at their new home in New Hampshire and realise the synagogue sponsoring them expected them to…. actually attend shabbat services. Due to the repression of religion in the USSR, the Gokuns had become so secular they never thought about their Jewishness much, except when it determined what jobs they could have back home.
My main gripe with this book is a relatively simple one–Gokun and I just have very different senses of humour. I’ll chalk some of it up to a generation gap, but despite all the “don’t worry, this will be left out of the final draft” jokes, it really did feel first-draft-y. The essay format made it a bit difficult to actually keep track of her story. Gokun’s husband works as a diplomat and the family lived overseas at various times, including in Russia. Which made things confusing when I turned the page and thought, “wait, why is she back?!?”
But I did really enjoy Gokun’s reckoning with her culture, especially in the wake of *motions at everything Trump-related*. The final essay, when Gokun writes a letter to her now-adult daughter and her memories of her daughter’s childhood, was incredibly touching, and every mother and daughter would be able to find something to relate to in it.
RATING: 2/5 STARS
Thanks NetGalley and Octopus Publishing for the ARC in exchange for my review. I NAMED MY DOG PUSHKIN is now out in the UK.
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