Fall of Empire and Emigre Angst

For a Russian writer to even contemplate emigrating is to raise a number of acute existential problems. Without family and friends,without the language and the millions of reference points which spark memories, how can a writer function ?


These are some of the issues explored in "One Way Ticket," a collection of short stories written in the 1980's and '90's by Zinovy Zinik, a Russian Jew who emigrated to Israel in 1975 before settling permanently in London. These first-person stories follow a Russian emigr?, who is indistinguishable from the author, as he tries to make sense of his new life .


Zinik's protagonist, like all emigr?s, is tortured by the erratic communication lines with the former Soviet Union. Letters crisscross en route, complicating relationships already threatened by distance. Separation plays tricks on his sense of time. In one story, the protagonist returns to Moscow and runs into a former lover whom he vaguely remembers. By the end of the encounter, however, he learns that the woman is in fact the former lover's now grown-up daughter. His memory may have frozen at the time of his departure, but life has moved on.


Entertaining and well-written, Zinik's stories are saved from seeming anachronistic because he uses emigration as a literary device, through which to explore issues of consciousness and identity, and human relationships. But the real power of the stories lies in the unexpected discoveries his protagonist makes during his journey towards assimilation.


The protagonist is an arrogant man -- though he has seen none of the world before emigrating, he behaves as if he has seen it all. But each story has a twist that turns his assumptions upside down. In one, he realizes that a Soviet apparatchik who is desperate to find fishing lures during a trip to London is not pursuing an idle hobby, but is trying to save an imprisoned nephew who needs the lures as bribes.


Through the protagonist's experiences the reader learns that the world is not so predictable and that life can be surprising and enlightening. And that is the greatest discovery of all.





"One Way Ticket" by Zinovy Zinik. Harbord Publishing, 224 pages, ?8.99 ($13.89).