An artist and architect looks back on his unconventional life.
Born in San Francisco in 1929, Sazevich was the son of Russian émigrés and named after Alexander Borodin’s 1890 opera Prince Igor. After a brief, early stint in interwar Paris—where his father worked as a painter and his mother as a hat maker—Sazevich’s family returned to San Francisco in 1935. He’s lived for much of his life, and he writes about the city in impressive detail in this debut memoir. Something of a loner in his youth, he attended classes at the local chapter of the communist newspaper People’s Daily World as a teenage writing student. Soon after, in an early display of literary ambition, he wrote a play in an attempt to “express to the world the plight of the downtrodden.” After briefly attending San Francisco City College, Sazevich transferred: “As soon as I walked onto the campus of UC Berkeley,” he recalls, “I knew that the years of being difficult and bored had come to an end.” In 1953, he was drafted into the Army, which postponed his architectural studies at Berkeley. Like much of his biography, Sazevich’s Army experiences proved unusual; somehow, he was promoted to be captain of the 37th Engineer Group tennis team and was sent to Frankfurt, Germany. After returning to California, he resumed his courtship with a woman named Natasha, whose aunt married a member of the Romanov family, whom he eventually married. Throughout this book, the author’s life is marked by readable, remarkable, and often humorous experiences. Sazevich has a brisk prose style that’s full of honesty and humor; often, the writing is action-driven, but he occasionally issues somber reflections, as when he recalls a road trip with his father during his own late teens: “Looking back now, I understand much of what bound us so closely: not just love but curiosity, strong survival instincts, and a wonder at being alive amid undiscovered beauty.” The eccentric personalities of his larger-than-life parents loom large in this remembrance, and Sazevich writes movingly about their lives as well as his own.
A heartfelt and humorous memoir of a son of immigrants.