An affecting coming-of-age memoir looking at life in the Soviet Union at a time of political and social change by American debut author Kalis.
Recent college graduate David found himself at loose ends. He knew he wanted to use his degree in Soviet East European Studies but wasn’t sure how. He embarked on a 30-day trip to the Soviet Union, hoping to improve his language skills, and ended up staying two and a half years, only returning to the United States when he had completed a voyage of self-discovery. On his very first day in Moscow in 1991, he found himself on a Soviet tank photographing a political uprising; two years later, he repeated the experience at a demonstration at the Bely Dom, the Russian White House. However, the second time, after being shot at, he underwent a watershed moment, realizing that it was time to leave the city he had made his home. Although small in stature, Kalis is big in chutzpah: He talked his way into a job, met his hero Gorbachev, and stood up to the Russian Mafia (vodka helped). Kalis’ forthrightness allows readers to see the flaws in his younger self, most of them attributable to the foibles of youth. However, despite his immaturity, he possesses a moral code, which prevented him from taking advantage of the prevalence of prostitution and pornography, preferring instead to meet partners the old-fashioned way. When Kalis finally visited the village of his grandfather’s birth, in Ukraine, he achieved a deeper understanding of his heritage and the losses his Jewish grandparents experienced during the Holocaust and pogroms. The scenes in Ukraine, in which he feels a deep connection with the people and his own faith, are particularly poignant in the context of recent events in the region. While Kalis doesn’t provide much historical background, his first-person account of life in the Soviet Union at the tail end of the Cold War provides depth that history texts cannot. Well-written and absorbing, his memoir will appeal to general readers as well as those with an interest in Eastern Europe.
A personal look at the disintegration of the Soviet Union, experienced through the eyes of an occasionally callow, but always likable, young man.