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Maxim D. Shrayer at Harvard Book Store

May 2, 2023 @ 7:00 pm


May 2, 2023
7:00 pm
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Immigrant Baggage:
Morticians, Purloined Diaries, and Other Theatrics of Exile

Immigrant Baggage: Morticians, purloined diaries, and other theatrics of exile


Harvard Book Store welcomes MAXIM D. SHRAYER—bilingual author, scholar, translator, and Professor at Boston College—for a discussion of his new memoir Immigrant Baggage: Morticians, Purloined Diaries, and Other Theatrics of Exile.

A Return to In-Person Events

Harvard Book Store is excited to be back to in-person programming. To ensure the safety and comfort of everyone in attendance, the following Covid-19 safety protocols will be in place at all of our Harvard Book Store events until further notice:

  • Face coverings are required of all staff and attendees when inside the store. Masks must snugly cover nose and mouth.

About Immigrant Baggage

In this poignant literary memoir, internationally acclaimed author and Boston College professor Maxim D. Shrayer (Waiting for America) explores both material and immaterial aspects of immigrant baggage. Through a combination of dispassionate reportage, gentle irony, and confessional remembrance, Shrayer writes about traversing the borders and boundaries of the three cultures that have nourished him—Russian, Jewish, and American. The spirit of nonconformism and the power of laughter come to the rescue of Shrayer’s autobiographical protagonist when he faces existential calamities and life’s misadventures.

The aftermath of a dangerous ski accident in Italy reminds the memoirist of history’s black holes. A haunting, Soviet-era theatrical affair pushes the émigré protagonist to the brink of a disaster in a provincial Russian town. Attempting to collect overdue royalties from a Moscow publisher, the expatriate writer tips his hat to Kafka. The book’s six interconnected tales are held together by the memorist’s imperative to make the ordinary absurd and the absurd—ordinary. Shrayer parses a translingual literary life filled with travel, politics, and discovery—and sustained by family love and faith in art’s transcendence.

Praise for Immigrant Baggage

“Maxim D Shrayer is a precious object: a kind of living Rosetta Stone who embodies multiple literary cultures. In this compelling literary memoir, he moves between the stagnant decades of the late Soviet Union to present-day America, illuminating his tales with dazzling aperçus from the treasure-house of Russian-language literature. Shrayer’s wry, witty, wise and nuanced writing weaves together strands of Soviet, Russian, Jewish and American culture in moments of translingual epiphany. Now more than ever, his work is a vital reminder of our common humanity.” —Marcel Theroux, author of The Sorcerer of Pyongyang and Far North

“Maxim D. Shrayer is a faithful student of the great masters of Russian literature. And he is also top-of-the-class as a literary Russian émigré in his own right. This is a charming and breezy book, written by a wordsmith from two worlds—sparkling with the Soviet skepticism of a Jewish novelist who hasn’t quite unpacked all his baggage in America, darting back and forth like a Nabokovian butterfly between locales, languages and the Kafkaesque surprises and vexations of life.” —Thane Rosenbaum, author of How Sweet It Is! and The Golems of Gotham

“The lively stories that comprise Maxim D. Shrayer’s Immigrant Baggage burst with a passionate devotion to literature—the Russian literature of Shrayer’s past, in particular, before he and his parents left Russia after eight persecuted years as Jewish refuseniks. Whether describing a literary discussion among friends from his Soviet youth, or among colleagues in America today, the conversations are of utmost importance; indeed, intellectual arguments can be loveable ‘tirades’ when the nature of literature is at stake. Poignantly, reading into this memoir familiarizes us with the texture of what it is to live exiled, as an immigrant, with one’s mind perpetually in more than one world, and speaking more than one language. Shrayer’s gift is to guide us, through his ‘adventures,’ to an understanding of the many meanings of the phrase Immigrant Baggage, including the inevitable weight of the past, the ever-present quality of being multicultural, and the literal need and desire to travel across the globe to stay connected to a world left behind. The son of a writer, Shrayer brings a certain wistfulness for the literary life of the past when he describes—to his daughters whom he lovingly shares his literary life—his father taking him to editorial offices in Moscow and then for a treat of ‘something delicious like a smoked tongue sandwich and pear soda.’ The past is present, and made alive again, in this most engaging memoir.” —Elizabeth Poliner, author of As Close to Us as Breathing and Mutual Life & Casualty