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A daily record of what I'm thinking about what I'm reading

To read about movies and TV shows I'm watching, visit my other blog: Elliot's Watching

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Immigrants abroad: Vapnyar story in New Yorker

Reading Lara Vapnyar's story in current New Yorker, Waiting for the Miracle, I can't help but think how many fine contemporary American writers have chronicled the immigrant experience in all its varieties, off the top thinking of Diaz, Lahiri, O'Neil, Rae-Lee, list could go on and starting to see more from Africa and SE Asia (the UK has seen more immigrant lit from these continents) and of course other generations have had their own immigrant lit as well, Roth (Henry), Singer (IB), Bellow forming a solid triumvirate of Jewish-American to the point at which I think maybe the only contemp writer who falls outside the scope is Erdrich. In any event, Vapnyar has been making a great career writing about the recent wave of Russian immigrants, and her new story is a good example of the genre and its insights. Story tells of a 30-year-old man, Vadik, coming to the U.S. on a 3-year work visa, heading for a job in who-know-where NJ (he will be surprised, if there is a sequel to this story, at how far he is from NYC, which is his real aspiration). On landing he's welcomed by old friend from Russia now settled in U.S. and no longer, Vadik sees immediately, the dramatic-romantic counterculture guy who got all the girls - now he's living in a drab house on Staten Island, has a chubby obnoxious 6-year-old son addicted to video games and TV action shows, and he and his wife talk mostly about real estate. Vadik, seemingly tireless, says he ahs to go see Manhattan, takes a bus in from SI and walks for hours on the slushy streets, ending up in a diner (are there such things in NY?) where he meets a lovely young grad student, goes back to her apartment, has very gratifying sex with her, and in the am leaves her a note and departs. She was the miracle, of course, but oddly he left w/out any attempt to share contact info and he was - as we learn in flash-forward - to spend the rest of his life trying to find her, yearning for her, feeling that he'd missed something important and essential - a hollowness to the rest of his life. Maybe not literally believable - but the story gives a great sense of his excitement about, bewilderment by, and misapprehension of the codes and mores of the new world. We see the innocence and exuberance of a newly arrived, relatively prosperous immigrant and the first sense of cultural clash (he and the woman, Rachel, argue about the significance of Leonard Cohen song lyrics - title is a the title of a Cohen song - which he considers bold and romantic and she sees as oppressive and misogynistic) and fault lines in comprehension.

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