Between America and Russia

When Sana Krasikov began to write the book “Patriots” (The Patriots), a large and boldly invented a novel about Russia and America, that she could hardly imagine how in tune with the present time, it eventually will be. Relations between the two countries will always remain a Central part of Jewish history, because so many Jews have roots in the former tsarist Empire. However, the clashes during the cold war between the United States and the Soviet Union that determined the history of both Nations for 50 years, is now perceived as a thing of the distant past. These two countries seem to have detached from each other, and Roman Krasikov, which is dedicated to the fate of three generations of a Jewish family related to both of these countries some time ago might seem of purely historical work.

However, after the presidential election, everything changed, and changed in the most incredible way. Thanks to Donald Trump Russia today is again in the spotlight of American politics — this time not as an ideological enemy and rival superpower, and as the best friend of the President. When trump threatens to dissolve the NATO Alliance and binds his lot with Putin — a dictator who is killing political opponents and invading neighbouring countries, the question of what it means to be American and what it means to be Russian, is once again becoming relevant. What if these two Nations are, in fact, are deeply opposed to national character and political culture? And in this case, any reconciliation between them is doomed to remain superficial? Or they more like identity than we think.

At such moments, the Soviet immigrant writers possess precisely the profound understanding of the situation and information we need. Journalist Masha Gessen (Masha Gessen), for example, is one of the best guides in regard to the axis of the Putin-trump and its impact on American politics. Krasikov is not as sophisticated interpreter, like Hesse, however, in his book “Patriots”, she presented us a wonderful story about the fate of Americans in Russia and Russians returning to their homeland after they have been Americanized. Own story Krasikov — she was born in the Soviet Union in the 8 years he moved to the United States, and, as an adult, living alternately in Moscow, then in new York. Her first book called “Another year” (One More Year) is a collection of short stories.

It was favorably received by many people, and as a work of Jewish literature was awarded the prize named Sami Rohr (Sami Rohr Prize). And Judaism — Krasikov, and also to Hesse, Gary shteyngart (Gary Shteyngart), Vapnyar Lara (Lara Vapnyar), David Bezmozgis (David Bezmozgis), and others — provides the opportunity to observe both cultures are not at a right angle. The Jewish writer who feels at home there, and there and nowhere, able to see things that other observers may not notice.

The name of this epic work Krasikov is ambiguous, because, as it turns out, one of her heroes is not a patriot in the usual sense of the word, a man loving the country in which he or she was born. In fact, the events in the book begin in 1934 when Florence FEIN (Fein Florence), a young heroine, born in Brooklyn, sent by ship to Moscow, where she intends to start a new life. “Broken heart-all family members — that is the price you had to pay for the salvation of his own” — so says Florence, unaware of how many sorrows and disappointments is preparing for her journey.

In passing, we learn that her motives are a mixture of personal and ideological issues. She fell in love with Sergei, a Russian engineer, with whom he met during his visit to America as part of the trade delegation. Returning home, he wrote her a friendly letter, which she took as an invitation to join him and participate with him in the building of communism.

For Florence, as for many other young American radicals in a period of deep depression in America, Russia seemed like some kind of future. Moreover, it seemed possible salvation from the dullness of her own oppression and poor existence. “She would do anything in order to escape from the quarter of Flatbush (Flatbush), she was ready to go anywhere in order to find a meaningful life with its consequences, which undoubtedly existed outside the pale of Brooklyn, a territory that — like Ireland or Poland — was always doomed to be in the shadow of its superior force.” In other words, she goes to Moscow with the same mood as another Brooklyn Jew of her generation went to Manhattan in order to “make it” (making it), using the expression Podgorica Norman (Norman Podhoretz). However, in her case “do this” meant to return to the same place that once left her parents.

If to speak about time, it makes a very exceptional thing that few of those born in America, the Jews made a return trip to his old country. However, it makes sense as a premise for the story Krasikov wants to tell; as a pendulum movement between Russia and America will continue to determine the fate of the family of Florence for over two generations. In this book, events occur in multiple time frames — describing the history of Florence from the 1930s to the 1950s; her son Julian (Julian), born in Russia but moved to America in the 1970-ies; also her grandson, lenny (Lenny), who returned to Moscow in 2008 in search of a big win in the casino post-Soviet capitalism. Gradually, as the outlines of this story, we begin to understand what unites the heroes of the novel and the way in which patterns in the lives of these three people are scary similar, despite completely different historical circumstances.

The events in the novel Krasikovo happen simultaneously in the past and in the present, and it therefore faces a double challenge; and her penchant for false calls and makes the novel “Patriots” such impressive work. Her book is among the epic historical novels, which previously took first place in the bestseller list — a very close DNA are Herman Wouk (Herman Wouk) and James Michener (James Michener), and also Pasternak, and Tolstoy, today, however, few of the writers is taken in such a case. The reader can feel the author’s desire to imagine a variety of subjects and characters.

In addition to Jews that are in the center of the novel, Krasikov finds a place for combat pilot in the American South, as well as for the Russian Manager of the oil field, British journalist, an agent of the NKVD, the commandant of the Gulag, and there for a short time appears even Franklin Delano Roosevelt. In addition, she enjoys the opportunity to explore iconic locations — from a small American town during the Great depression and the Moscow of Stalin’s purges to the Arctic labor camps.

Work on my novel “Patriots” demanded a considerable amount of research, and not all of its results has been thoroughly revised digression about Solomon Mikhoels and the Jewish anti-fascist Committee faithfully reproduced from the history books. However, in General, Krasikov bravely overcomes the obstacles in the way of historical fiction of the narrative, since the author cannot know better than the reader “how it really was”. Describing the past the author needs to make it look believable; however, our expectations of credibility are formed for the most part the other books, not real life. The result is so — the more familiar you are to the 20th century Soviet history, the more familiar you will seem life route Florence FEIN. Inevitably she is interrogated by the NKVD, and then she gets some time in the GULAG.

However Krasikov’s doing well with all these episodes, and she does it with convincing detail and psychological truth. Especially be her description of the logical twists and self-interest with which Florence, summoned to the secret police, convinces himself that there’s nothing in the denunciation of his best friend. Is it possible to exclude that he best friend first told her? And where, otherwise, the investigator knows so much about her? Such a revelation, as it artfully shows Krasikov, initially to a greater extent striking her like a blow to her vanity, than as a personal betrayal. “This assumption was so fleeting and useless that she couldn’t even fix it in the form of thoughts — thoughts about the fact that she, Florens, and somehow was selected for its insight and intelligence. Yes, some part of her surrendered to the perverted sense of pride about this corrupt and repulsive work that she was forced to perform.”

When we get to the XXI century, as well as to the story about the son and grandson of Florence, the novel is more direct and exciting. Here’s the news we did not know and which Krasikov seems to tell us — what does it mean to deal with a Russian oligarch or to attend the reception on the occasion of July 4 at the American Embassy in Moscow? Although communism is no more, life in Russia, according to Krasikov, still imbued with corruption and moral compromise. Julian and lenny are forced to make their own betrayal — the consequences of them, not like in Florence, since we are talking mainly about business, not about the imprisonment, but still, it is possible to thoroughly dirty. Nevertheless, all Russian subjects because the view Krasikov, Russia is the place where it is impossible to keep their hands clean.

State, economy, culture — all of that sets people against their own beliefs. A very small part is described in the book events happening in America, and there is no reason to believe that Krasikov, or some of her characters have an idealized view about American life. But compared to what she showed us of life in Russia inevitably come to the conclusion that America seems a very good place — a place where, at least, it is possible to be honest. Whether to keep this situation in coming years is big and open question, which is now set before us.

Adam Kirsch is the Director of programs for the master’s degree of the Department of Jewish studies at Columbia University. Recently was published his new work entitled “People and books: 18 classics of Jewish literature” (The People and The Books: 18 Classics of Jewish Literature).