(p. A13) There are some words that, through a sort of onomatopoeia, seem fated to be the worst epithets. In Russian, zhid is one of those. Ask any Soviet Jew who grew up in that now extinct empire what it felt like to be on the receiving end of the slur, whose English approximation is “kike,” and they will mention the sound: a sinister hiss ending with a snap of the tongue against the back of the teeth.
For Lev Golinkin, the author of a new memoir about his family’s immigration from Soviet Ukraine to the West, that sibilant sound dominates most of his memories of life before 1989.
. . .
All their fears–of a government that sought to both erase their Jewish identity and discriminate against them for it, as well as of the unknown ahead–reached their apogee at their moment of immigration: Mr. Golinkin’s father, in a desperate attempt to save his life’s work, had hidden microfilm of all his patents in his underwear. When he saw how vigorously the border police were searching people, he took the rolls of microfilm to the bathroom and threw them out the window, into a fire blazing inside a steel drum just outside the border post. Once in the West, this man of incredible will achieved the rare feat of rebuilding his career from scratch.
Things didn’t work out as well for Mr. Golinkin’s mother: She found work only as a security guard.
At one point, a grown Mr. Golinkin confronts her about failing to foresee how difficult re-establishing herself would be, even calling her dreams of America “naïve and ridiculous.” She answers that she didn’t want to be afraid of her government anymore. She didn’t want to tell her son why “he should prepare for a long and painful life.” The sacrifice she made, he realizes, was for “peace and dignity, not a paycheck”–and, of course, for him.
For the full review, see:
GAL BECKERMAN. “BOOKSHELF; The Sinister Hiss; The author’s father, a successful engineer, hid microfilm of his patents in his underwear in a desperate attempt to save his life’s work.” The Wall Street Journal (Fri., Dec. 19, 2014): A13.
(Note: ellipsis added; italics in original.)
(Note: the online version of the review has the date Dec. 18, 2014, and has the title “Book Review: ‘The Marshmallow Test’ by Walter Mischel; To resist the tempting treat, kids looked away, squirmed, sang or simply pretended to take a bite.”)
The book under review is:
Golinkin, Lev. A Backpack, a Bear, and Eight Crates of Vodka: A Memoir. New York: Doubleday, 2014.