2 thoughts on “A Backpack, a Bear, and Eight Crates of Vodka: A Memoir

  1. Suzanne Amara
    31 of 32 people found the following review helpful
    5.0 out of 5 stars
    A wonderful memoir, a thank you in book form for all those who helped the author’s family come to the US, August 25, 2014
    By 
    Suzanne Amara (MA) –
    (VINE VOICE)
      

    Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What’s this?)
    Within this wonderfully written memoir, there is one story that stands out most for me. A young Lev Golinkin, in Vienna, waiting to go to America, is taken to a house full of donated clothes and is allowed to pick out a winter coat for himself. He finds a bomber type jacket, with lots of zippers, to replace a fur coat that was destroyed during a terrible night at the border crossing out of the USSR. Many years later, he still remembers the moment of getting that jacket, and he seeks out the people and the organization that made that possible.

    This memoir is full of moments like that. I think it should be required reading for all those thinking about immigration to America. Golinkin was born in the USSR, a place where just being Jewish led to beatings, lack of school opportunities and constant fear. Although his family knows almost nothing about their Jewish heritage, and guess at when Passover is to sneak some unleavened flour into their apartment, that doesn’t matter, as a passage so strongly explains. Being Jewish is an ethnicity, not a belief. Golinkin, a young boy when the family left the USSR, already realized what was at stake. His vivid memories of the people and places that led them to their life in America are amazing to read about—heartbreaking and hopeful both.

    I hope this book gets wide readership. It deserves that.

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  2. Inna Tysoe
    27 of 28 people found the following review helpful
    5.0 out of 5 stars
    I Can’t Recommend It Enough, October 5, 2014
    By 
    Inna Tysoe (Sacramento) –
    (VINE VOICE)
      
    (TOP 500 REVIEWER)
      

    Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What’s this?)
    This is an amazingly good book. And, for me, an amazingly hard book to read. The Golinkins came to the US after us (they came in the after ours–the Soviet Union closed the border when they went to war in Afghanistan) and they came from Kharkov in Ukraine whereas we are from Moscow, Russia but we all lived under the same regime. And we were all Jews.

    I was a girl growing up so maybe I didn’t get beaten up for being Jewish in the same humiliating way because of that accident of gender and because we lived in Moscow we didn’t have to go so far to reach customs and we didn’t meet a benefactor in Vienna (we were processed in Rome)…but the rest… I know the rest because I lived it. And so this was hard to read.
    It was like holding up a mirror to my life. Not a perfect mirror but definitely a reflection. I probably needed to see it. But it was hard.

    The book though is excellent. From the minute he mentions the parades “Parades were the gold standard of the Soviet Union” he had me. I simply could not put this book down. I have work to do and a husband and puppies but I was lost in the chaos of immigrating while a refugee, of babushkas (never cross a babushka is sound advice, trust me) of bribery-by-vodka, of the fear upon which the Soviet regime is built; upon which it still rests. And of the awful things that does to a human being.

    I was lost too in realizing just how many people had come together to make our escape from the Soviet Regime possible. The American Jewish Distribution Committee (Joint) that paid for us as we stayed in Vienna and Rome, the Hebrew International Aid Society (HIAS) that organized our exodus and provided the legions of volunteers, social workers, sponsors, and legal staff to ensure that we were able to go where we wanted to go and the many, many people in the United States, in Israel and the whole world who worked in all manner of ways—from signing a petition to showing up at a rally, to donating a sweater, a jacket, or sponsoring a family—the hundreds and thousands of people who for decades worked and worked and worked to ensure that my family and I could get out. So that we could have a life.

    Unlike Lev Golinkin, I will never even try to thank those myriads of people. I am too settled in my life now; I am no longer a freshly-minted college graduate looking for an identity. But upon finishing this book, I made a small donation to HIAS. It was the least I could do.

    I highly recommend this book.

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