A Backpack, a Bear, and Eight Crates of Vodka

by Lev Golinkin

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

There's no such thing as a young refugee; every migrant has a past they've fled from, and how can you be young when you already have one life behind you?

Lev was very young when he and his family were forced to migrate out of the Soviet Union to seek political asylum. However, Lev's traumatic experiences as a refugee pushed him to grow up faster than his non-migrant peers. He was young in age at the time of his family's exodus but quickly matured psychologically due to their harsh circumstances.

The concept of time—particularly the compartmentalization of past, present and future—is blurred in the book. Time is deconstructed by Lev in order to make sense of his past. In this sense, Lev is not trying to recapture his lost childhood but is attempting to investigate why he had to mature into "adulthood" so quickly. He examines the causes of political oppression, institutional xenophobia, and forced exile. These causes were all outside of his and his family's control, and this conclusion partially answers why his youth and innocence were taken away from him.

Running a totalitarian regime is simple: tell the people what they're going to do, shoot the first one to object, and repeat until everyone is on the same page.

Lev dissects the political philosophy of totalitarianism and its implementation by dictators like Stalin. Totalitarianism is one of the intertwined roots that caused his family's persecution and exile. Lev believes it is important to thoroughly examine the causes and effects of fascism because such brutal systems of control are still applied in certain countries today. In order for Lev to understand his past, he had to gain an in-depth understanding of why powerful people brutalize innocent people like his family. By examining the dynamics between the powers that be and the citizenry, Lev is able to gain some insights into how anyone in the world could be victimized instantaneously.

We wanted freedom, the freedom to live our lives without trembling, and naturally we, like our innumerable predecessors, cast our gaze across the Atlantic.

In contrast to the oppressive and violent regime of the Soviet Union, the United States represented freedom and human rights. Like many Jews who immigrated to America before Lev, he saw the West as a symbol of liberty and justice. After all, the United States was the prime opponent of the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Going to the other side of the Atlantic was not only a literal relocation but a symbolic leap toward a new life. The eastern United States was colonized, initially, by Pilgrims, who were fleeing persecution in England. In the case of the Jews during the twentieth century, they were fleeing political persecution and xenophobia-rooted mass extermination.

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