An American Family’s Curious Bond With Russia

Ussr_01_victoria_semykina_02Liesl Schillinger at VQR:

It may sound incomprehensible—senseless, Constance Garnett would have put it, as she did in her translation of The Brothers Karamazov—but while the rest of the world may dread the return of the prolonged hostile stare-down known in the last half of the last century as the Cold War, in some ways, I welcome the refreeze. It plunges me into nostalgia for my 1970s and 1980s childhood in Michigan, Indiana, and Oklahoma, when my professor parents threw incessant pirozhki-and-samovar parties for Russian Club students and for the peaceable, intellectual Soviet émigrés who were landing in American college towns in those years, bringing news from behind the Iron Curtain and beet-and-mayonnaise salads. I suspect that writers of James Bond-type thrillers feel much the same way I do, though for different reasons. Since the demise of the USSR—and the KGB—in 1991, it’s been a stretch for them to keep roping Soviet-era villains into their plots; now they can breathe easy. In the 1990s and well into the aughts, during the post-Soviet thaw, I sometimes wondered if my parents’ obsession with the culture and history of the Soviet Union had been a mistake, a generational fluke. But now that bare-chested, border-crashing Vladimir Putin has brought back the jangling tensions of the good-old bad-old days, I am feeling some vindication. So, I imagine, are the dozens of midwestern students who fell under the spell of my parents’ Slavophilia, getting doctorates in Russian just before Americans stopped caring about the “Evil Empire” and Russian-language enrollments plummeted.

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