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Packing for a Long Trip   1 comment

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I’m a sucker for a good title and that’s the reason I read Yelena Akhtiorskaya’s Panic in a Suitcase. The book was included on the long list of the Tournament of Books. It didn’t make the cut to the short list, and I can see why.

Akhtiorskaya’s novel begins in 1993 with the Nasmeratovs who have settled in Brooklyn’s Brighton Beach following the Soviet Union’s collapse. They are a continent away from their roots, but the new community is a little Russia where shops, restaurants and neighbors share the same language and customs. Assimilation isn’t necessary.

Pasha Nasmeratov is a poet and the one family member who remains on native soil. He visits his family in New York, but never commits to immigrating. His sister, her husband and their daughter live with Pasha’s parents in a crowded apartment. Pasha is the link to the past in many ways. Jump ahead to 2008 and Frida, his niece, is grown up. She’s intrigued by the mother land, but is rooted in an inability to embrace the future while clinging to the past, even one she doesn’t remember. Frida was young when the family left Odessa.

The problem is there’s too much jumping from one character or location to another. Still, the author’s writing is rich in clever turns of phrase and vivid imagery. Humor is a lively resident among the prose: “Frida stumbled past tidy strips of lawn, her favorite with a PLEASE CARB YOUR DOG sign…”

Panic in a Suitcase
Three-and-a-half Bookmarks
Riverhead Books, 2014
307 pages

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One response to “Packing for a Long Trip

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  1. What a great title.

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