• I Named My Dog Pushkin (And Other Immigrant Tales)

  • Notes from a Soviet Girl on Becoming an American Woman
  • By: Margarita Gokun Silver
  • Narrated by: Laurel Lefkow
  • Length: 7 hrs and 26 mins
  • 3.8 out of 5 stars (11 ratings)

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I Named My Dog Pushkin (And Other Immigrant Tales)  By  cover art

I Named My Dog Pushkin (And Other Immigrant Tales)

By: Margarita Gokun Silver
Narrated by: Laurel Lefkow
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Publisher's summary

Buy a pair of Levi's, lose the Russian accent, and turn yourself into an American. Really, how difficult could it be?

Fake an exit visa, fool the Soviet authorities, pack enough sausage to last through immigration, buy a one-way Aeroflot ticket, and the rest will sort itself out. That was the gist of every Soviet-Jewish immigrant’s plan in the 1980s, Margarita’s included. Despite her father's protestations that they'd get caught and thrown into a gulag, she convinced her family to follow that plan.

When they arrived in the US, Margarita had a clearly defined objective - become fully American as soon as possible and leave her Soviet past behind. But she soon learned that finding her new voice was harder than escaping the Soviet secret police.

She finds herself changing her name to fit in, disappointing her parents who expect her to become a doctor, a lawyer, an investment banker, and a classical pianist - all at the same time, learning to date without hang-ups (there is no sex in the Soviet Union), parenting her own daughter ‘while too Russian’, and not being able to let go of old habits (never, ever throw anything away because you might use it again). Most importantly, she finds that no matter how hard you try not to become your parents, you end up just like them anyway.

Witty, sharp, and unflinching, I Named My Dog Pushkin will have fans of Samantha Irby and Jenny Lawson howling with laughter at Margarita’s catastrophes, her victories, and her near misses as she learns to grow as both a woman and an immigrant in a world that often doesn’t appreciate either.

©2021 Margarita Gokun Silver (P)2021 Thread, an imprint of Storyfire Ltd.

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Totally Delightful!

Collections of funny essays are usually a mixed bag. Most of the essays are amusing, a few are hilarious, and several seem to only be there to make the manuscript book length. But I like humor writing and I'm an optimist, so I'll often try collections by unfamiliar authors, especially if I stand to learn something new. I read a review of this book on the NPR website and bought it on a whim. I'm so glad I did!

This collection is funny throughout! I'm not saying I loved every essay equally, but I've already listened to the whole book twice. Gokun Silver's prose is sharp and effervescent, managing to touch on history and important issues in between jokes. There's stuff about antisemitism in the USSR, the culture shock of moving from a communist nation to a capitalist one, and heaps about Russian culture. The author also makes the wise decision to tell her story thematically, rather than chronologically. Though the book is, at heart, a memoir, Gokun Silver's method allows her to serve up the funniest parts of her experience without the mountain of exposition that a linear approach would entail.

And Laurel Lefkow is a great narrator! There aren't a lot of different voices for her to master here, but, crucially, the producers chose a narrator who can speak Russian! I don't speak Russian, but, when Lefkow reads the Russian phrases that appear throughout the book, I believe that she is pronouncing them correctly. (This seems like a no-brainer, but any frequent audiobook listener will tell you that narrators often butcher words in other languages, even if those words are central to the story.) Also—for any readers considering this book based on the title—Pushkin the dog is entirely incidental and appears for maybe three minutes toward the beginning. So, if you're a dog-lover looking for a heartwarming story of how a puppy helped a young émigré adjust to a new life in America—this is not that book.

Finally, I loved how this collection coheres in a way that many funny collections don't. The theme, Gokun Silver's experiences as an expatriate, makes the book all the more satisfying. In short, this collection is funny, smart, and observant. It's worth your time.

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