To America

“Let’s go to America, Boris. Please. Your family knows what to do, they’ll help us. We can go to your brother at first. And think—if we go soon, our baby can be born in America. Safe. Please, Boris.”
“My dear, do you have any idea what they do to socialists in America? They send them to prison labor to dig drain lines and pick cotton with Negroes.”
“Not all of them, surely.” In fact she’d read somewhere that Hollywood was full of socialists.
“No America.” He was adamant. “Your mother is a demon, by the way. I mean this.”
Upset at the toppling of her escape plan, Musya only shrugged at this observation. “She’s been disappointed in life.”

ilf.petrov.road
When my mother at 87 finished LAMENT she told me she was disappointed. She’d been hoping the characters would go to America. They don’t, though. They stay in Soviet Russia, just as they did in life (although at least one–the baby mentioned the scene above, in fact–would eventually settle in Israel).

One account Musya might have read of America was written by the famous duo of Ilya Ilf & Evgeny Petrov (pen-names of two Odessans, Evgeny Kataev and Ilya Feinzilberg) who wrote The Twelve Chairs. Its hit sequel The Golden Calf takes place in a city based on Odessa, and I drew inspiration from this one when it came to landscapes and atmosphere. Two simply wonderful books, highly recommended; both were bestsellers that would have been popular during when Musya was in her teens. Photographs of the pair’s 1935 trip to America were published when she was still living in Odessa, dreaming of film stardom. “Single-Storied America” was the book that followed. This lovely 2004 article from Cabinet magazine includes excerpts of Ilf & Petrov’s text; it’s a favorite saved web page of mine. Enjoy!

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