John Williams of The New York Times reports on newly released book titles and the world of publishing in "The Book Reader."
Yelena Akhtiorskaya's "Panic in a Suitcase" is a debut novel that announces a big talent.
In elegant prose and with plenty of laughs, it tells the story of the Nasmertovs, a family of Ukrainian immigrants living in the Brighton Beach neighborhood of Brooklyn. In the first half of the book, Pasha, a sickly poet and the last family member still living in Ukraine, comes for a visit. In the second half, set 15 years later, his niece visits him in Ukraine.
The Nasmertovs urge Pasha to move to America, but with mixed feelings. The family members take solace in the way that his presence in Ukraine keeps them tied to their origins. The book complicates the push and pull of home, and the idea of starting over.
Akhtiorskaya leans on autobiography — she moved with her family from Ukraine to Brooklyn in 1992 — but the personal details have been transformed into the kind of fiction that is richer than real life. Nearly every page features imaginative language and great verve.
Comparisons to the work of Gary Shteyngart are inevitable, but in this sparkling debut, Akhtiorskaya stakes out territory all her own.