A Moscow-born, London-based writer and editor’s memoir about the impact her peripatetic, multilingual background had on her development.
In 2002, Lappin (The Nose, 2001, etc.) received a surprise call from a relative who told her the name and whereabouts of her biological father, a man she had never known. The revelation marked the start of the author’s re-evaluation of a life that had begun in Moscow in 1954 but had taken her to Prague, Hamburg, Tel Aviv, Ottawa, Westchester County, New York, and finally, London. Though Russian by birth, Lappin never had a chance to “grow into my mother tongue.” When she was almost 4, her half-Jewish mother—and the Jewish husband Lappin knew as her father—moved to Czechoslovakia, where Lappin would spend the next 12 years imbibing Czech language and culture while “living under the leaky umbrella of totalitarianism.” While maintaining fluency in Russian and learning French, Lappin watched Czechoslovakia evolve from a Soviet-influenced state into one under full Soviet control. In 1970 her parents moved to West Germany, where Lappin would spend the remainder of her adolescence becoming fluent in German and English but speaking Czech to her brother and Russian to her parents. As liberal as the social and political environments were, the author never felt at home in Germany. She moved again to Israel, where she felt a greater sense of belonging among Jews who “arrive[d] from anywhere and [spoke] any language.” But it was only after a much later move to New York that the “invisible strands” of Lappin’s life came together and she realized that English—a language she chose rather than one that had been foisted upon her—was the best suited to her work as a writer. A meditation on family secrets, loss, and personal belonging, Lappin’s book reveals how, in the absence of rootedness, language can become the “shelter” and home that nurtures selfhood and identity.
A thoughtful, unique meditation on exile and homecoming.