Macala recounts the tall tales of his multinational Eastern European family.
Macala grew up in a storytelling family. Stories from the Old Country, stories of the passage over, stories of learning to live in America. They were told in Slovak, Polish, Serbo-Croatian, Hungarian, Yiddish, Ukrainian, French, and (understandably) broken English. In “Remainders,” Macala explains the relative prestige of math, language, and writing in the life of an immigrant: “Who could tell that my father had once been a member of a drunken peasant mob? And while his math skills were embarrassing to my mother, she was proud that her husband could write his name.” In “My Brother Juri,” he tells of his brother, a high school football and track star who claimed to have once raced against Jesse Owens, who would greet people by saying, “Shake the hand that shook the hand of the guy that shamed Adolf Hitler.” There are earnest stories as well: in “Anton, Warsaw Lawyer,” Macala describes meeting with his openly gay cousin in London and considers how much his family has evolved emotionally as well as culturally. Macala is a natural storyteller, and though he professes to be transcribing these tales from an oral family history, the precision of his language and the sharpness of detail reveal an impressive relationship with the written word. The stories are occasionally heartbreaking; more often they are irreverent, absurd, and legitimately laugh-inducing. The greatest strength of these stories, however, is the way they preserve the immigrant experience—not just one, but many, from many different places, migrating at different times and under different circumstances. The particular color of each experience is engrossing and wonderful, yet the commonality of the collective experience, which rises to the surface of the book, is quite profound. Without any of the mawkishness that can seep into the story of a family’s landing, Macala provides true insight into the ways people move and how their assimilation (or lack thereof) shapes future generations in odd and edifying ways.
A hilarious, beauteous collection of immigrant tales.