Yelena Akhtiorskaya

Panic in a Suitcase

A daughter decodes her parents’ baffling nostalgia for their bad Old Country.

In the beginning was the nostalgia. That is to say, it started with the end. With memories, anecdotes, old photographs, wafts, vapors. That was the part of Odessa that was mine — the smoke. My family produced no shortage of nostalgic exhaust and I got high off the fumes. Mealtimes, car rides, strolls to Coney Island were just an excuse to reminisce about a time that was more authentic, exciting, frightening, funny, devastating, and bizarre than my own. We fed each other’s longing, reinforcing the myth of our native city, of the golden age, which ended, it seemed, not even on the day of our departure, but the day of my birth. What luck!

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