A Backpack, A Bear, and Eight Crates of Vodka

by Lev Golinkin

This is a memoir of a 9 year old who escapes Ukraine in December of 1989 with his family while Ukraine is part of the Soviet Union. As a Jew, Lev experiences cruelty every day he attends school; terrible beatings and humiliation. His older sister is denied entrance into pre med by falsifying her grades because she is a Jew.

Lev tells us his harrowing experience of crossing the Russian border into Czechoslovia, the long wait to come to America and how difficult it is for his family to survive.

As an adult American citizen he returns to retrace his steps and thank the people who helped his family.

An amazing read which gives us insight to the plight of an immigrant and the incomparable kindness of strangers.




From the publisher:


A compelling memoir of two intertwined journeys: a Jewish refugee family in Ukraine fleeing persecution and a young man seeking to reclaim a shattered past.


In the twilight of the Cold War (the late 1980s), nine-year old Lev Golinkin and his family cross the Soviet border, leaving Ukraine with only ten suitcases, $600, and the vague promise of help awaiting in Vienna. Years later, Lev, now an American adult, sets out to retrace his family's long trek, locate the strangers who fought for his freedom, and in the process, gain a future by understanding his past.


This is the vivid, darkly comic, and poignant story of Lev Golinkin in the confusing and often chilling final decade of the Soviet Union, and "of a Jewish family’s escape from oppression ... whose drama, hope and heartache Mr. Golinkin captures brilliantly” (The New York Times). It's also the story of Lev Golinkin as an American man who finally confronts his buried past by returning to Austria and Eastern Europe to track down the strangers who made his escape possible ... and say thank you.


Written with biting, acerbic wit and emotional honesty in the vein of Gary Shteyngart, Jonathan Safran Foer, and David Bezmozgis, Golinkin's search for personal identity set against the relentless currents of history is more than a memoir—it's a portrait of a lost era. This is a thrilling tale of escape and survival, a deeply personal look at the life of a Jewish child caught in the last gasp of the Soviet Union, and a provocative investigation into the power of hatred and the search for belonging. Lev Golinkin achieves an amazing feat—and it marks the debut of a fiercely intelligent, defiant, and unforgettable new voice.


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