A memoir of coming of age and struggling to leave the USSR. Shrayer chronicles the triumphs and humiliations of a Soviet childhood and expresses the dreams and fears of a Jewish family that never gave up its hopes for a better life. Narrated in the tradition of Tolstoy’s confessional trilogy and Nabokov’s autobiography, this is a searing account of the KGB’s persecution of refuseniks, a poet’s rebellion against totalitarian culture, and Soviet fantasies of the West during the Cold War.
In 1987 a young Jewish man, the central figure in this captivating book, leaves Moscow for good with his parents. They celebrate their freedom in opulent Vienna and spend two months in Rome and the coastal resort of Ladispoli. While waiting in Europe for a U.S. refugee visa, the book’s twenty-year-old poet quenches his thirst for sexual and cultural discovery. Through his colorful Austrian and Italian misadventures, he experiences the shock, thrill, and anonymity of encountering Western democracies, running into European roadblocks while shedding Soviet social taboos. As he anticipates entering a new life in America, he movingly describes the baggage that exiles bring with them, from the inescapable family traps and ties to the sweet cargo of memory. An emigration story, Waiting for America explores the rapid expansion of identity at the cusp of a new, American life. Told in a revelatory first-person narrative, Waiting for America is also a vibrant love story in which the romantic main character is torn between Russian and Western women. Filled with poignant humor and reinforced by hope and idealism, the author’s confessional voice carries the reader in the same way one is carried through literary memoirs like Tolstoy’s Childhood, Boyhood, Youth, Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast, or Nabokov’s Speak, Memory. Babel, Sebald, and Singer—all transcultural masters of identity writing—are the coordinates that help to locate Waiting for America on the greater map of literature.
Whether set in Maxim D. Shrayer’s native Russia or in North America and Western Europe, the eight stories in this collection explore emotionally intricate relationships that cross traditional boundaries of ethnicity, religion, and culture. Tracing the lives, obsessions, and aspirations of Jewish-Russian immigrants, these poignant, humorous, and tender stories create an expansive portrait of individuals struggling to come to terms with ghosts of their European pasts while simultaneously seeking to build new lives in their American present.