A Russian Immigrant: Three Novellas

A Russian Immigrant: Three Novellas


Maxim D. Shrayer

Cherry Orchard Books
ISBN: 9781644690369 (paperback), 9781644690970 (ePub)
Pages: 140 pp.
Publication Date: September 2019


No longer at home in Russia, but not quite assimilated into the American mainstream, the daily lives of Russian immigrants are fueled by a combustible mix of success and alienation. Simon Reznikov, the Boston-based immigrant protagonist of Maxim D. Shrayer’s A Russian Immigrant, is restless. Unresolved feelings about his Jewish (and American) present and his Russian (and Soviet) past prevent Reznikov from easily putting down roots in his new country. A visit to a decaying summer resort in the Catskills, now populated by Jewish ghosts of Soviet history, which include a famous émigré writer, reveals to Reznikov that he, too, is a prisoner of his past. An expedition to Prague in search of clues for an elusive Jewish writer’s biography exposes Reznikov’s own inability to move on. A chance reunion with a former Russian lover, now also an immigrant living in an affluent part of Connecticut, unearths memories of Reznikov’s last Soviet summer while reanimating many contradictors of a mixed, Jewish-Russian marriage.

Told both linearly and non-linearly, with elements of suspense, mystery and crime, these three interconnected novellas gradually reveal many layers of the characters’ Russian, Jewish, and Soviet identities. Vectors of love and desire, nostalgia and amnesia, violence and forgiveness, politics and aesthetics guide Shrayer’s immigrant characters while also disorienting them in their new American lives. Set in Providence, New Haven and Boston, but also in places of the main character’s pilgrimages such as Estonia and Bohemia, Shrayer’s book weaves together a literary manifesto of Russian Jews in America.

Photo by  George Kurgin

Photo by
George Kurgin

Maxim D. Shrayer, a translingual author, scholar and translator, is Professor of Russian, English, and Jewish Studies at Boston College and Director of the Project on Russian and Eurasian Jewry at Harvard’s Davis Center. Born in Moscow in 1967 to a writer’s family, Shrayer emigrated to the United States in 1987. He has authored and edited over fifteen books in English and Russian, among them the internationally acclaimed memoirs “Leaving Russia: A Jewish Story” and “Waiting for America: A Story of Emigration,” the story collection “Yom Kippur in Amsterdam,” and the anthology Voices of Jewish-Russian Literature. His works have been translated into nine languages. Shrayer won a 2007 National Jewish Book Award, and in 2012 he received a Guggenheim Fellowship. Visit Shrayer’s website at www.shrayer.com


Is it a spoiler alert to say that the conclusion of ‘Brotherly Love’ broke my heart? Or that ‘Bohemian Spring’ is likely to resonate especially (but by no means only) with anyone who has ever conducted dissertation research in a library/archive—and those of us who remember the emergence of Prague in the immediate aftermath of the Velvet Revolution.
— Erika Dreifus, author of Birthright: Poems
‘All the new thinking is about loss. / In this way it resembles all the old thinking.’ That’s Robert Hass in his poem ‘Meditation at Lagunitas,’ but it’s also the imperative behind Maxim D. Shrayer’s beautiful and haunting troika of novellas that limn the shifting patterns of contemporary Russian-Jewish immigrant experience with tenderness and charm. Shrayer is an elegant, generous writer always ready to salvage what matters most from lives shipwrecked by history.
— Jonathan Wilson, author of Kick and Run: Memoir with Soccer Ball
Forget all the slapstick, Moscow-on-the-Hudson, burlesque treatments of Jewish Russian émigré life you’ve ever read. If you want the honest, beautifully rendered, and deeply compelling truth about what it’s like to be a Russian immigrant in America, these three braided novellas by the very talented Maxim D. Shrayer are all you need.
— Eileen Pollack, author of The Bible of Dirty Jokes
Maxim D. Shrayer’s meticulously crafted and richly nuanced tryptic of novellas reads like a wistful goodbye to the shifting geopolitical and economic landscape on both sides of the pond. A Russian Immigrant is a loving farewell to things past and disintegrated: from the protagonist’s scholarly sojourn in Prague to his nostalgia-drenched memories of romance and brotherly love of his last Soviet vacation in Estonia to the show-stopping comedy pair of elderly ladies in the once popular Catskills resort now on the brink of losing its erstwhile splendor. The sensitive, intelligent and compassionate young Simon Reznikov who never misses his chance to assert his Russian-American biculturalism—and his Jewishness—or follow his heart in pursuit of romantic love, is a joy to observe as he moves from adolescence to early adulthood. Shrayer’s protagonist is bound to take pride of place among other renowned characters of coming-of-age fiction and beyond.
— Pavel Lembersky, author of Here’s Looking At You, Kid
The wry and poignant novellas in Maxim D. Shrayer’s new collection, A Russian Immigrant, are a valuable addition to the literature of exile, displacement, and the Diaspora. Shrayer’s protagonist, Simon Reznikov, is a scholar researching a ‘writer without a biography.’ The three novellas dig deep Reznikov’s Russian Jewish soul as we witness his love affairs gone awry, wittily and tenderly portrayed in Shrayer’s sparkling prose.
— Tony Eprile, author of The Persistence of Memory

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