Perhaps the biggest plus of being in an actual book club versus reading a book solo is the advantage of hearing multiple viewpoints. While this month’s read of Panic in a Suitcase was a bit sluggish to get through for me (ok, let’s just call a spade a spade: it was by far my least favorite read of our NYC book club, and the only thing that kept me picking it up day after day was knowing I was obliged to go to book club. So, there’s that.), but, other ladies in the club really enjoyed it! They found humor in the dialogue, even! Thought it was an immigrant story of the modern ages that, in fact, needed to be told. So I implore you: don’t judge the book by my humble opinion, pick it up for yourself and see if you’re on Team Love It or Team Hate It…there won’t be much in between, I promise you that;-)
A dazzling debut novel about a Russian immigrant family living in Brooklyn and their struggle to learn the new rules of the American Dream.
In this account of two decades in the life of an immigrant household, the fall of communism and the rise of globalization are artfully reflected in the experience of a single family. Ironies, subtle and glaring, are revealed: the Nasmertovs left Odessa for Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, with a huge sense of finality, only to find that the divide between the old world and the new is not nearly as clear-cut as they thought. The dissolution of the Soviet Union makes returning just a matter of a plane ticket, and the Russian-owned shops in their adopted neighborhood stock even the most obscure comforts of home. Pursuing the American Dream once meant giving up everything, but does the dream still work if the past is always within reach?
If the Nasmertov parents can afford only to look forward, learning the rules of aspiration, the family’s youngest, Frida, can only look back.
In striking, arresting prose loaded with fresh and inventive turns of phrase, Yelena Akhtiorskaya has written the first great novel of Brighton Beach: a searing portrait of hope and ambition, and a profound exploration of the power and limits of language itself, its ability to make connections across cultures and generations.
1. A big theme in the book was that of “bringing the past with you.” When Pasha arrived in Brooklyn all he saw was a mini Odessa recreated on the shores of this new land, and this depressed him more than anything else. Do you agree or disagree with Pasha’s viewpoint?
I feel like this is a bit of a delicate topic here in NYC, no? I mean, on one hand, I’d say unless you were forced out of your country against your will to live abroad (different story, completely), then it was in fact your choice to come to NY to make a new life for yourself and your family. There’s a quote by Beryl Markham that goes, “If you must leave a place that you have lived in and loved, and where all your yesteryears are buried deep, leave it any way except a slow way, leave it the fastest way you can”. While, yes, there is comfort in having familiar things around you as you had in your homeland (the same restaurants, the same food, speaking your native language), and these ethnic neighborhoods are what gives NYC its life pulse, I can also see Pasha’s point. If you’re constantly yearning for the homeland, will you ever find true happiness in the present? After all, nostalgia is nothing more than a mild case of depression, right?
2. The author chose not to use typical dialogue in her novel…no quotation marks to signify if the characters were speaking aloud or in their heads. How was this experience for you, the reader?
Honestly, this was the last thing that bothered me about this book. Her writing style was fine, but the fact that there was very little plot and her characters were exceptionally unlikable bothered me much more than her lack of quotation marks. I got the feeling that she was directing this debut novel to be a big hit with the NY Times critics (obviously well done, bravo on that front!), but wasn’t thinking much about her average reader.
3. Why do you think the author chose to call the book Panic In A Suitcase?
This was one part of the novel I thought she got right. The characters were so disorganized and scattered that every time they were coming or going, whether in Brooklyn or Odessa or upstate weekend getaways, there was such chaos and pointless talking from all parties involved…migraine inducing! I would have gone running in the opposite direction as far as humanly possible. Which does pose the interesting question…since this is rumored to be a bit of a fictional tale based on real life, is that exactly what author Yelena Akhtiorskaya did? I sure hope so.
I look forward to hearing your thoughts on the book below, and make sure to join us next month for our discussion on Grand Central: Original Stories of Postwar Love and Reunion, which we’ll hold on the blog on Thursday, February 12th. Between now and then feel free to share your thoughts on Twitter with the hashtag #UYCBookclub!
1. How much would you pay to use a strange(rs) New York toilet? Now you can with AirPnP! (via New York Post)
2. Want to get ridiculously cultured for totally free this year? Grab the new NYC ID card and you can have a basic membership to 33 cultural institutions around the city all year long. Bam! (via Brooklyn Based)
3. Score free food at these NYC bars. Double bam!! (via Time Out New York)
4. Escape the crowds this winter with these 10 hole-in-the-wall joints! (via Guest of a Guest)
5. Have you guys heard of “Escape The Room“? I think it sounds like a perfect Saturday night! (via Today’s The Day I)
What’s been inspiring you this week? Share below!
Writing a serious drama for the stage has got to be the ultimate challenge. I have read, heard and personally encountered a myriad of successful novelists, prose, poetry, and short story writers who cower in fear when it comes to writing a straight play – way too daunting. There’s nothing to hide behind – a play has to contain a complete, facile and balanced exchange of dialogue which will tell and naturally advance the story. Each and every pronoun, adjective, verb must be carefully weighed, considered and ultimately fit the character’s voice. Sets, lighting and costumes set the tone and accent the action. Of course, direction and casting are of the utmost importance. So many elements greatly form and enhance a story, but ultimately it’s the spoken word driving the plot that attracts an audience. Quite simply, tell me a story.
This is the primary reason to admire Ayad Akhtar’s Pulitzer Prize winning “Disgraced” currently at the Lyceum Theater, it tells a damn good story and basically asks one important question – “Do you ever leave home or do you take your home with you?” Such an intelligent drama – one in which clearly and carefully chosen words flow yet ultimately fly out of one’s mouth – and therein lies the rub. What lies beneath the surface of our conversations, what we REALLY think and feel is never as far away as we would like to believe. It only takes a few tenuous and debatable sentences spoken in anger at a dinner party to readily bring out the ugly. Truth doesn’t make it more platable.
In light of the horrid terrorist attacks in France last week, this cutting 90 minute one act play has assumed an even keener relevance. “Disgraced” is set in contemporary NYC and tells the story of an ambitious, assimilated Pakistani born successful ex- Muslim NYC corporate lawyer, “Amir” (wonderfully played by Hari Dillon) who seems happily married to the lovely, American blonde “Emily” (the waspy Gretchen Mol) a socially conscious artist. Now – how easily my thoughtfully and deliberately selected adjectives just described these two major characters. Catch my drift? These tags help define the tale that will inevitably unfold. Now add a Jewish male art dealer (played smartly by Josh Radnor) married to a witty black female corporate lawyer (the sassy actress, Karen Pittman) from Amir’s firm (can you spell “competition?”) and invite them to Amir and Emily’s upscale apartment for dinner. You immediately know that sparks are going to fly while they walk and talk their way thru a minefield of ideas. These diverse individuals will not only intelligently converse and argue ideologies …but they may very well never move past the salad course. Personally speaking, I was always taught to steer clear of conversations involving religion and politics during social occasions, but these fiery four can’t seem to change course – food wise or otherwise. Great minds don’t always think alike. Before they get to their entrée, passionate thoughts, cultural arguments, and important questions are eschewed while tempers escalate. In other words, all hell breaks loose! How quickly a dinner table can turn. We can’t always blame the wine.
Yes, I am deliberately simplifying a balanced, well drawn play. This is obviously a complex story, not necessarily in terms of action – although there are some particularly key movements in this play – but in the dialogue and discourse. No wonder we can’t all live happily together in our world, we can’t even enjoy dinner with friends. So many cultural divides (make no mistake, Judaism and Islam are a culture, as well as a formal set of religious beliefs), we have to work this out somehow, with due respect as well as due process. Or we’ll end up eating each other. Did 9/11 teach us nothing?
“Disgraced” was always scheduled for a short run on Broadway, and so will close March 1st. Yet I cannot help but think that the serious topics in this show did not attract an audience, or else the run would have easily been extended. Which leads me to my usual soap box position, and I apologize for the same old/same old …. Again I ask why there isn’t enough room for the razzle/dazzle of a splashy Broadway musical as well as intelligent, thought provoking drama? Some thirty nine Broadway theaters, surely there is space for us all, and we can all get along. Variety is always the spice of life. Don’t miss this play, a rich dialogue driven drama like this doesn’t appear very often.
Inside your “Disgraced” playbill is a flier encouraging “Disgraced” to be discussed via social media i.e. “People are talking. Hear what they’re saying. Share what you’re thinking.” I add that you cautiously share your thoughts and carefully choose your words.
By: Joanne Theodorou
We moved into our new apartment this past fall. The packing/moving process was a little…stressful, to say the least. The hubs and I were amazed at how much random stuff we had accumulated in our 3 years at our last place. We both hate clutter and consider ourselves pretty minimalistic people by nature, so it was shocking to us how much stuff we had to weed through and do the whole “take/donate/give away/throw away” piles. Let’s just say it took a lot more time that either of us had anticipated. Womp womp.
That being said, we had a pretty strict mindset going into the new place of not bringing anything into the home that we didn’t REALLY intend to use, since that’s how things tend to spiral out of control pretty quickly. We made a huge deal of “no house warming gifts!” to our families, but of course, got a few things anyway;-)
In case any of you guys are moving or in need of a gift for friends who are, here’s our list of housewarming gifts that will be warmly welcomed and, get this, actually happily used!
My friend Natalie surprised us with Jo Malone soap and lotion, and I quickly became obsessed! This stuff smells amazing, and really makes the act of washing your hands a little luxury. The company also does a fabulous job of gift boxing, free of charge, and includes 2 free perfume samples with each order.
I don’t know a single New Yorker who doesn’t indulge in their daily cup(s) of coffee or tea, so this is surely a gift that will be quickly used up! Bonus points from getting it from your favorite local coffee/tea house!
If I’m home for more than an hour at a time, I have a candle burning. Having a very sensitive nose, I’m kinda obsessed with good smells;-) They get cycled through pretty quickly, so it’s always nice to have a reserve.
Ok, I know this sounds SUPER cheesy, but hear me out. My parents have a guest book in their spare bedroom, and it’s such a delight going back and reading all the entries from family and friends who have spent time their over the years. While New Yorkers don’t exactly have guest bedrooms, per say, your guests always pop into your bathroom, right?! There’s also couch guest books and dinner party guest books, in case you can’t wrap your head around people doodling on your pot;-)
This is something I would never ever splurge on myself, truth be told, I get the generic “Fresh Direct” brand every time. But it’s something that will most definitely be used, and what a treat to be able to taste something of great quality!
Would love to know…what’s the best house warming gift you’ve ever received or gave?
Photo Credit: 1
This contest has officially ended. A huge New York thank you to all who participated, and congrats to our winner, Nicholas! Stay tuned for more exciting UsedYorkCity.com giveaways!
Theater lovers! It’s that time of year again…yep! Get your dose of the best of Off-Broadway for only $20 a ticket! That’s, like, SO much theater for just a wee more than you’d pay for a Manhattan movie ticket! And the best part is: we’re giving away a voucher for a pair of tickets that you can use for any show you want! Here’s all the info:
20at20 is a bi-annual celebration of NY’s best shows! Beginning Tuesday, January 20th and ending Sunday, February 8th, Off-Broadway shows will offer seats still available twenty minutes before the curtain, for only $20 when purchased at the box office (cash only at some venues; some restrictions may apply). Here is your chance to catch up with shows you may have missed, get a sneak peek at the next hit, or revisit a favorite – all for only $20! And since Off-Broadway has performances to fit everyone’s schedule, you can see more than one! Where else can you see five shows in a day, for less than the price of ONE BROADWAY TICKET?!
For more info on 20at20 and participating shows, visit www.20at20.com.
One UYC winner will receive tickets to TWO SHOWS of their choice! The winner can choose any two shows from the list of participants and will receive a pair of tickets to each show chosen (subject to availability).
1. Subscribe to Used York City, getting the best picks of NYC delivered straight to your inbox. (Don’t forget to respond to the verification message you are sent via email. Former subscribers are automatically entered!)
2. Leave a comment below telling us what show you’re excited to see!
The contest will run until Monday, January 19th, at which time a winner will be randomly chosen and announced on this post and via Twitter, and the winner will be notified directly by the email address that they subscribed with! Best of luck to all our readers!