April 27, 2006 • Volume 14 Number 16

Maxim D. Shrayer and his father David Shrayer-Petrov will speak as part of the "Writers Among Us" series May 2.

Immigration, Identity: The Story Continues

By Patricia Delaney
Deputy Director of Public Affairs

Once again, Prof. Maxim D. Shrayer (Slavic and Eastern Languages) and his father, the writer and medical researcher David Shrayer-Petrov, have pooled their talents and interests to produce another work on the transforming experience of immigration.

Their new book, Autumn in Yalta: A Novel and Three Stories, was written by Shrayer-Petrov, a noted writer and former Soviet refusenik, and edited and co-translated by his son. The volume includes an autobiographical novel about a Jewish-Russian boy coming to terms with his identity during World War II and three moving and evocative stories about love, Jewish identity, medicine and the immigrant experience.

Shrayer and his father will present a reading and discussion of their new book on May 2, at 7:30 p.m. in Devlin 101 as part of the "Writers Among Us" series, which recognizes the works of faculty authors. The event also is being held through the Jewish Literature Project.

Also appearing will be a panel of co-translators, including Emilia Shrayer, Shrayer-Petrov's wife; Arna B. Bronstein and Aleksandra Fleszar, professors of Russian at the University of New Hampshire; and Margarit Tadevosyan, a BC doctoral candidate writing about exile and bilingualism.

Autumn in Yalta is the second book-length collaboration for Shrayer and his father. Their first, Jonah and Sarah: Jewish Stories of Russia and America, was published in 2003 and selected by the Boston Globe as one of the year's best books.

In the title story of Autumn in Yalta, an idealistic Jewish protagonist is sent to a Siberian prison camp because of his ill-fated love for Polechka, a tuberculosis patient. In "The Love of Akira Watanabe," once again unrequited love is the focus of the central character, a displaced Japanese professor at a New England university. A fishing expedition and an old Jewish recipe make for a surprise ending in "Carp for the Gefilte Fish," a tale of a childless couple from Belarus and their American employers.

The novel Strange Danya Rayev is set in Stalinist Russia and revolves around the wartime experiences of a Jewish-Russian boy evacuated from his besieged native Leningrad to a remote village in the Ural Mountains. The young protagonist returns to his native city in 1944 only to confront the devastation of family and the bitter and harsh realities of anti-Semitism.

"Medicine and literature entered my life simultaneously, in early childhood," says Shrayer-Petrov, who emigrated to the US in 1987. "During [World War II], after we had been evacuated to a faraway village in the Urals, mother would read to me letters from the front, including those from my aunt, a military physician. These letters were the first literary testimony of the war, and in them the personal and the mythological were intertwined.

"Growing up I read voraciously, and the great anatomist and writer Rabelais with his carnivalesque novel Gargantua and Pantagruel taught me to perceive the human body in mythic proportions. I suddenly realized that the universe is humanity with its daily expressions of live functions: cognition, digestion, procreation. One would study medicine in order to discover the very essence of life and of its imagination-literature. Thus I became both a doctor and a writer."

Shrayer, writing in his afterword to the book, says, "A literary translator is someone who couches the original in the words of another language while also interpreting its meaning. When an author's son is also his translator and editor, he wants to represent more than his father's voice. Before me on the page were not only my father's words. In my mind's eye was my father's life story."

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