A Backpack, A Bear and Eight Crates of Vodka)
Lev Golinkin
Anchor Books

ISBN: 978-0345806338


Photo by Diana P. Lang

Photo by Diana P. Lang


Audio interview Audio Interview With the Author

 Audio Length: 15 minutes


When Lev Golinkin and his Jewish family escaped the Russian-dominated eastern Ukraine city of Kharkov in 1990, they were allowed to take only a few possessions. Nine-year-old Lev chose to take his stuffed bear and a backpack. The family also took eight crates of Vodka to use as currency to bribe their way to freedom. 

Lev’s memoir A BACKPACK, A BEAR, AND EIGHT CRATES OF VODKA (just released by Anchor Books/ Penguin Random House) is the vivid, darkly comic, and poignant story of a young boy in the confusing and often chilling final decade of the Soviet Union. It’s also the story of Lev Golinkin, the American man who finally confronts his buried past by returning to Austria and Eastern Europe to track down the strangers who made his escape possible . . . and say thank you. 

In this Authorlink AUDIO interview, Lev talks about writing as a way of understanding the past and of making experiences more real by giving them  life on the page. He also talks of his motives for revisiting the past and his search to belong somewhere.

A graduate of Boston College, he has written a number of op-eds and essays on the Ukraine crisis which have appeared in The New York TimesLos Angeles TimesThe Boston Globe, and Time.com, among others.  But A BACKPACK is his first full-length book.

Written with biting, acerbic wit and emotional honesty in the vein of Gary Shteyngart, Jonathan Safran Foer, and David Bezmozgis, Golinkin’s search for personal identity set against the relentless currents of history is more than a memoir—it’s a portrait of a lost era. This is a thrilling tale of escape and survival, a deeply personal look at the life of a Jewish child caught in the last gasp of the Soviet Union, and a provocative investigation into the power of hatred and the search for belonging. Lev Golinkin achieves an amazing feat—and it marks the debut of a fiercely intelligent, defiant, and unforgettable new voice.  

We at Authorlink highly recommend this work. 

Praise for the book:

“[A] hilarious and heartbreaking story of a Jewish family’s escape from oppression….whose drama, hope and heartache Mr. Golinkin captures brilliantly.”
The New York Times

“An awesome intercontinental whirlwind, funny and smart. Go Ukraine!”
Gary Shteyngart, bestselling author of Little Failure 

“Mr. Golinkin excels at these moments, describing the emotional truth of immigration… His account is so raw that it manages to capture at a visceral level the feelings of many of the million Soviet Jews who left their homeland at the Cold War’s end.”
The Wall Street Journal

“[Lev Golinkin] convincingly relates the purgatory of statelessness, the confused anticipatory state of the immigrant.”
–The Chicago Tribune

“Best memoir title of the year…Golinkin’s A Backpack, a Bear, and Eight Crates of Vodka is fueled not by sly humor but by a potent cocktail of earnestness and anger.”
–The Oregonian

“Outstanding, original, and deeply moving.”
Chuck Hogan, bestselling author of The Town and co-author of The Strain

“As the author turned nine during the Soviet Union’s final years, his Jewish family fled hostile Kharkov, in Ukraine, with virtually no possessions and made their way through central Europe to the U.S. After college, he retracted their steps, thanking the NGO workers and patrons who’d helped them – including the son of an unrepentant Nazi Austrian baron. Golinkin’s account of the whole saga is lucidly intelligent and humanistic – and deeply moving.”
ELLE (The Elle’s Lettres 2015 Readers’ Prize)

“Thirty years after the end of the Cold War, there is a vibrant literary canon written by former Soviet Jews who have come of age in America. Gary Shteyngart may be the group’s founding father; Anya Ulinich, its graphic novelist; Yelena Akhtiorskaya, its newest ingenue. Mr. Golinkin, with this deeply personal and sometimes painful dissection of the split identity of an emigre, has grabbed the role of psychotherapist.”
–Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
“Despite the serious topic, Golinkin writes with a light touch; he has a natural sense of humor and an easy style…[A Backpack, a Bear, andEight Crates of Vodka opens with a depiction of breathtaking cruelty. But by the end, readers may feel breathless at the incredible kindness of strangers.”
–Minneapolis Star Tribune

“There’s a gem on every page of A Backpack, A Bear, and Eight Crates of Vodka. Lev Golinkin has the skill and vision necessary to tell the story of a crumbling empire, and the soulfulness and flair to capture that story in the saga of one man. He’s an alert, and witty, and humane storyteller. I will eagerly read anything he writes.”
Avi Steinberg, author of Running the Books and The Lost Book of Mormon

“Golinkin came to America as a Ukrainian child refugee with only what he and his family could carry. But he’s found his family fortune in their exodus story–a soulful tale that is both incredibly beautiful and wickedly funny, a tale of being lost, being found and finding home.” 
Helene Stapinski, author of Five-Finger Discount: A Crooked Family History 
“An unforgettable coming-of-age memoir of a boy from Soviet Ukraine that entertains as it conveys insight into the meaning of America in today’s turbulent world.” 
Jack F. Matlock, Jr., former ambassador to the Soviet Union under Reagan and George H.W. Bush, and author of Reagan and Gorbachev and Autopsy on an Empire

“In Lev Golinkin’s skillful memoir, A Backpack, a Bear, and Eight Crates of Vodka, we share his family’s traumatic flight to freedom from Soviet Ukraine, and then a young man’s brave attempt to build a meaningful life in the United States.”
Peter Eisner, author of The Pope’s Last Crusade