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A Backpack, a Bear, and Eight Crates of Vodka: 7 [Audiobook] [Audio CD]

Lev Golinkin

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Book Description

4 Nov 2014
A compelling story of two intertwined journeys: a Jewish refugee family 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 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.

Lev Golinkin's memoir is the vivid, darkly comic, and poignant story of a young boy in the confusing and often chilling final decade of the Soviet Union. It's also the story of Lev Golinkin, the 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.
--This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Product details

  • Audio CD
  • Publisher: Blackstone Audiobooks; Unabridged edition (4 Nov 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1481506951
  • ISBN-13: 978-1481506953
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Customer Reviews

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Amazon.com: 4.8 out of 5 stars  4 reviews
4 of 4 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 25 Aug 2014
By Suzanne Amara - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|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.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Told with warmth and spirit 19 Sep 2014
By Dawn Kessinger - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
One of the things I really liked about "A Backpack, a Bear and Eight Crates of Vodka" is its balance. It's not just about the bad times or experiences. It's also about the funny, victorious, hopeful and compassionate moments. I was completely taken in by the relationship between Lev and his older sister, Lina - the clever way the two teased one another and "got even" for tricks played was full of humor and good cheer. On the other hand, I was just as riveted by Lev's family's terrifying ordeal at the border when they were trying to exit the USSR (vicious people were in control of whether his family would be locked up instead of permitted to leave the country).

The people Lev and his family meet are just as compelling as Lev and his family. The reader meets various people from charitable organizations who are committed and make a huge difference in the lives of these Jewish refugees. The way Lev introduces them and tells their stories (with warmth and affection) sparks the reader to feel deeply and appreciate these people as if we knew them ourselves. From Binder, who gladly opens up his hotel to help house and feed the refugees on their journey, to Eva, who gives away free clothing - there's a clear, unhurried picture of each person or group of people who helped along the way and their stories/kindnesses.

There is the big picture in this memoir, but also little details (Lev learning the alphabet; Lina getting a job; Lev's dad working for free just to get a good recommendation to take to the U.S. with them) and everyday life that brings Lev, his family, people who threaten and cause problems as well as those who care and help, to vivid life. You can't help but read on; the story pulls you in and you find you'd rather stay in it than put the book down to do other things you must do (like work).
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A touching story of loss, love, fear and renewal 13 Sep 2014
By CGScammell - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
The author had me engaged with the sentence "The Soviet Union...the land that worshipped the embalmed body of a bald monster, the land that banned God, the land of black cars, illegal radios, crooked mirrors, and underground bakeries, where missiles and tanks rolled under the red flag...(2)" And this was just in the Prologue!

This is the kind of prose all throughout this touching memoir. It is 1987 in Kharkov, a town destroyed by the Germans in WWII and still carries the scars. Young Lev Golinkin is recalling his early school years, with authoritarian teachers, parades, running in gas masks and that subtle presence of fear. Capitalists are seen as the Bogieman and yet young Lev doesn't quite understand what that means, only that Capitalists are the enemy. The Golinkins are also Jewish Ukrainians, and there's always a threat of pogroms against the Jews. The family leaves two years later.

The tone throughout this memoir is of both love and fear. Love for the tight-knit family, fear of the system. The Golinkins know that they are living a lie but keep quiet, like so many other people they know. The fear of the system, and the harsh reality of living under it, are unspoken and yet understood. This is what makes this memoir so touching, as it lacks anger, despite all the turmoil the family undergoes to leave the Soviet Union for greener pastures. Their story is the typical Soviet emigrant story trying to make a better life for themselves.

The story continues as the displaced Ukrainian Jews in Austria, where luxuries are everywhere and they remain the foreigners, whether they are in West Lafayette Indiana, where a family sponsors them in the United States, to Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts or East Windsor, New Jersey. The family struggles with American oddities and yet they manage and manage well.

I especially liked this story because it reminds me of the story of one of my Ukrainian Jewish teachers from my US Army days, who had fled her country to come to the USA as a Jewish refugee. Her stories were more entrenched in fear and sadness, though, as she lost family members to both the Nazis and later the Soviets. And how are the Ukrainians faring today, under the threat of renewed Russian occupancy of their country? Reading this memoir should make people ask these questions again, as another mass exodus may soon be in Ukrainian's future
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This is a beautifully written and accurately described memoir 18 Sep 2014
By AIROLF - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
This is a beautifully written and accurately described memoir. As Golinkin's contemporary, someone who is only a few years younger than him but who has had a very similar childhood of growing up in the former Soviet union and then emigrating to the U.S., I can relate to his tale of woe and redemption.

In the very beginning of the book, the author states that his college graduation made him realize that he was running away from his past, hiding from his heritage, and trying too hard to fit in. You don't have to emigrate from another country to know that all of us have unresolved issues from our past.

What better way to reconcile those issues than to put them down on paper, to release the demons within us?

A great book is a book that stays with you long after you have finished reading it. I have just read "A Backpack, A Bear, and Eight Crates of Vodka" so I can not attest to the longevity of it in my memory. What I can say, however, is that I haven't experienced this much nostalgia for my childhood since I, myself, was a child, i.e., never.

Golinkin is able to capture the intricacies with the mind of an adult but relate them in a sarcastic wit and from the innocent eyes of a child.

I found the book inspiring -- I'd love to write a memoir. Golinkin's writing is effortless; it makes you believe that anyone can write and that everyone has a story to say.

I would love to read this guy's future works.
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