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.
“There Is No Such City”: The Myth of Odessa in Post-Soviet Immigrant Literature
Adrian Wanner is liberal arts research professor of Slavic languages and comparative literature at Pennsylvania State University. He is the author of Baudelaire in Russia (1996), Russian Minimalism: From the Prose Poem to the Anti-Story (2003) and Out of Russia: Fictions of a New Translingual Diaspora (2011). His most recent book, a study of self-translation among Russian poets, is forthcoming in 2019.
Adrian Wanner; “There Is No Such City”: The Myth of Odessa in Post-Soviet Immigrant Literature. Twentieth-Century Literature 1 March 2019; 65 (1-2): 121–144. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/0041462X-7378839
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