Panic In A Suitcase

1st off - Holy 100th Post, Batman! That one kind of snuck up on me. There's little fanfare to report with that, so let's just talk about the book, shall we?
I first heard of Panic in a Suitcase one evening commute home while listening to NPR's Fresh Air - it didn't immediately strike me as something I might be interested in - stories about immigrant families who move to New York? They're either Angels in America sappy or a comedy, making fun of how awkward and desperately hard these recent cultural implants try to fit, making it cringe-worthy for the reader, and unbearable for me. The interview revealed that it would be neither. Yes, it was humorous, but not in a mocking or uncomfortable way, necessarily. But I'll get to that part later.

Panic in a Suitcase is about, you guessed it, a recently immigrated Russian family. They're settling in just nicely, but one of their kin remains in Russia - a difficult brother and poet called Pasha Nasmertov. Pasha, however, is no more difficult to live with than any of the rest of his family (particularly his sister), despite the fact that he is a poet. Yes, a poet. And no this story does not, in fact, take place during the American Industrial Revolution. It actually takes place, for the first part at least, in the early 90's, then 15 years later when the central character becomes Frida. Fridachka Nasmertov, Pasha's niece who was 9 years old at the beginning of the story, wants to revisit her uncle in the Ukraine - mainly as a way to avoid another year of medical school, but under the guise of visiting her cousin's wedding. At this point, Pasha's career has actually taken off and he is a well known Poet, which for some reason surprises me. What Frida finds upon visiting the motherland is probably just as jarring and confusing for her as her New York was to her uncle 15 years prior.

There really wasn't much plot, but that isn't a bad thing. The humor, to me (and probably most readers), lies in the family. If your family isn't unfamiliar with the ebb and flow of clashing heads, strong wills, manipulations, illnesses, and strong emotions in general, you might be able to relate. I found more humor in this dynamic because it felt like home, even if my family isn't Russian or Jewish, but Akhtiorskaya writes over all with a wry wit.

This might not be a well received book by the average reader, but I still enjoyed it.

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