cover image A Backpack, a Bear, and Eight Crates of Vodka

A Backpack, a Bear, and Eight Crates of Vodka

Lev Golinkin. Doubleday, $25.95 (320p) ISBN 978-0-385-53777-3

In late 1989, an 11-year-old Golinkin and his family joined the Jewish diaspora from what would soon be the former Soviet Union. Despite having little connection to their Jewish heritage, the Golinkins had been harassed, bullied, and seen their prospects blocked due to their ethnicity. Their exile brought them first to Austria, where they developed an important friendship with a local baron whose father was an unrepentant Nazi. Soon after, they received asylum in the college town of West Lafayette, Ind. Decades later, Golinkin retraced his journey and interviewed the people who had made his escape possible. Golinkin convincingly portrays the miseries, and rare joys, of his bullied, furtive childhood, and the limits it put on him. As he takes on an American identity, he rejects every aspect of his previous life, from its language to a faith he barely knew, a rejection that includes his choice of colleges (he attended the Roman Catholic Boston College).Trauma and his attempts to deal with it give substance to his book, although Golinkin supplements his memories with interviews and research that add important context. While the narrative grows choppy at the end as it devolves into a series of postscripts, Golinkin has created a deeply moving account of fear and hope. [em](Nov.) [/em]