Of Russia, Citizenship and Memories

by Marinka on February 9, 2010

I’ve been writing a memoir of sorts. I know you’re thinking that I’m much too young and beautiful to reflect on my life, and you have a point, of course, but I’m forging ahead.

The memoir is about my childhood in Russia and the process of emigrating to the United States when I was nine years old, in the 1970s. It involves my asking mama and papa a lot of questions about the details of my childhood, the whys and the how comes that I sort of think all parents hope their children don’t bring up. Like the other day, I asked my parents if they remembered locking me in a closet when I was little and they most certainly did not. They did not remember it, incidentally, with incredible accuracy and they were more certain of the non-locking in than they are of almost anything else in their lives.

“But I remember being in the closet,” I told them, keeping an eye on the closets in my apartment and calculating what it would take for them to drag me there now.
“You want people to think you were abused?” Mama says. “Child abuse very popular now.”
Papa has already lost interest.
“Closet-shmoset,” he says. “Do you think American reader will understand what Soviet Union was like? Will they know why we had to leave?”
I think about it.
“I don’t want to alarm you,” I had told my 15 year-old stepson last month, “But the cable in my room is not working. The cable company has been alerted and will arrive on Saturday. I am doing okay.”
“You’ve been living in America too long,” he tells me, not unkindly. He’s lived in Europe for most of his life. I know that he means that for most of the world’s population, the cable being out is not trauma. (Except when it’s Project Runway premiere week.)

My parents are having dinner at our house and the conversation invariably turns to who was worse–Hitler or Stalin. At sonic speed, Stalin wins. “I remember when he died, people were crying on the streets,” Papa tells me. “Idiots.”
“Not everyone,” mama piped in. “Many people were happy.”
“They may have been happy, but they were crying, because not to cry was not patriotic.”
“Really?” I say. Because, clearly, I like to contribute to meaningful discussions. “Did people know what Stalin was all about by then?”
“Yes,” papa says; at the exact moment that mama says, “no.”
“Everyone who wanted to know, knew,” papa said.
“People were scared to know,” Mama said. I think that she is referring to the fact that listening to Western radio was illegal, but she may mean that it was frightening for people to realize that their great esteemed leader was a butcher.

* * *

“You should tell the story of how I realized that it was better to have no citizenship at all than to have a Soviet one,” papa says. And I will. Because I don’t want to be locked in the closet again.
Before we left the Soviet Union, we were stripped of our Soviet citizenship. “And we had to pay for the honor,” papa says.
“What do you mean, in rubles?” I ask.
“No, in myrrh,” pap retorts. “Yes, rubles.”
So when we boarded the plane to Vienna, we were, in effect, stateless. We landed in Warsaw a short time later, because of bad weather conditions.
“And the authorities wanted to put us all on the bus to Vienna, but every Jew protested. So, Soviets went on the bus, and others, like us, not citizens, were put up in a nice hotel in Warsaw. And that’s when I knew that being a Soviet citizen was worse than having no citizenship at all.”

One year ago ...

  • 8 - 2015
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{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

Mo February 9, 2010 at 3:50 am

If we don’t hear from you for a few days should we suspect the closet?

Given your youth and beauty, about which countless tales of awe and wonder spread across the globe, even reaching closets and cable-less homes, I am indeed surprised about your memoir-writing.


Sophie February 9, 2010 at 5:43 am

I’m worried about the cable situation. Has it been fixed yet?


February 9, 2010 at 6:00 am

I just stumbled this.


February 9, 2010 at 8:59 am

As your publicist. I think we should have your parents present for all TV interviews. Because, honestly, how awesome would their body language be in the background when you answer questions on the Today Show?

Also. Considering making T-Shirts for your book tour. Working on the punch line but now must include CLOSET somehow. I will be up all night worrying about this.


Momo Fali
February 9, 2010 at 9:07 am

My mom locked me in a closet and she’s not even Russian.


barbara sigelbaum
February 9, 2010 at 9:22 am

Handsome papa and beautiful mama and stunning Marinka are also very brave.


Mrs. C February 9, 2010 at 9:52 am

I would like to read your book. Keep us updated.


Birdie February 9, 2010 at 12:00 pm

I’m with papa, closet-shmoset. I walked 5 miles to school, both ways, in blizzards, with no Uggs, every day. A warm and cozy closet would have been a luxury!


Angie February 9, 2010 at 12:39 pm

Personally, I think Closet-Schmoset: A Life Viewed Through the Keyhole should be the name of your memoir. Would you like me to write the foreword?


February 9, 2010 at 1:29 pm

I studied the rise and fall of totalitarianism as a political science major. I anxiously await your book and your parent’s reflections. I will slip it onto my bookcase next to my beloved Doestoevsky.

And I’m not even kidding.


SoccerMom February 9, 2010 at 1:44 pm

It all sounds so interesting. I would soooooo read your memoir.


the mama bird diaries
February 9, 2010 at 2:42 pm

I would totally be interested in a free copy of your book.

If the cable is out, we should all just move to the former Soviet Union.


Heather, Queen of Shake Shake February 9, 2010 at 3:34 pm

I’m going to kick Amy’s ass. Just because she used the word totalitarianism and it exceeds 5 syllables.

Better yet, have Mama and Papa lock her in a closet.


February 10, 2010 at 12:36 am

i’m soooo looking forward to reading your book, especially if it’s full of mama and papa humor and disagreements. i lock myself in the closet to get a quiet moment, but my husband and son always end up finding me and unlocking the door. take care.


elenka February 10, 2010 at 6:27 am

I am the first person born in this country in my family, so I am almost an immigrant, unless moving from NJ to Maine counts. Your conversations with your parents is all too familiar…except the part about being locked in a closet.
Congrats on finding the UGGS, which are named that for a good reason.


Kate Coveny Hood
February 13, 2010 at 2:59 am

“Child abuse very popular now.” and “the conversation invariably turns to who was worse–Hitler or Stalin” are exactly why your book will be a best seller. Hilarious. But maybe too funny for Oprah’s book list…shame, but you can’t have it all I guess.


March 30, 2011 at 9:45 pm

I know it would alarm them to no end: either me saying I need to give them both a big hug or asking you to give them a big hug for me. So… how about I just say it here in this comment and you do nothing about it? Perfect. The story at the end. The ending. Perfect.


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