The city of Odessa has gained prominence in twentieth-century literature as a symbolic hub of sensuality, irreverent humor, and criminal ingenuity. While Odessa’s storied ethnic diversity is now largely reduced to a Russian/Ukrainian binary, the multicultural and Jewish Odessa lives on in the Russian American immigrant literature that has sprung up since the turn of the millennium. The city even has its own New World simulacrum in New York’s “Little Odessa” neighborhood. This article investigates the impact of the “Odessa Text” on the work of two Odessa-born US authors, the poet Ilya Kaminsky (b. 1977) and the novelist Yelena Akhtiorskaya (b. 1985). Akhtiorskaya’s debut novel Panic in a Suitcase (2014) deconstructs the image of the “Odessa poet” proffered by Kaminsky’s volume Dancing in Odessa (2004). While Kaminsky displays a cannily constructed Russian Jewish persona that is comparable to the self-exoticizing mechanisms at play in much contemporary Russian American prose fiction, Akhtiorskaya engages the clichés and mythologies of the “Odessa Text” in order to ironically subvert them. In juxtaposing these two authors, the article examines the ongoing construction of a “Russian Jewish” identity and how it is received by US readers and critics.

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