Novelist Gary Shteyngart was a wheezing, asthmatic and fearful 7-year-old when he and his parents emigrated from the Soviet Union to Queens, New York, in 1979. (This was soon after America negotiated a trade deal with the Soviets that included allowing Jews to immigrate to Israel, Canada or the U.S.)
The relocation meant little Shteyngart was suddenly living in the country he had been taught was the enemy. His parents, who had been prevented from practicing Judaism in the Soviet Union, sent Shteyngart to a Hebrew school in Queens, where he felt lost and despised.
"My problem was that I didn’t know any English. So on top of not knowing any English, there was another language, Hebrew, which was even harder, that they were trying to teach me. It was too much. …
And at home we had no television so I couldn’t learn English from TV, so for the first years in Hebrew school I would sit apart from everyone at the cafeteria … and I would just have long conversations in Russian with myself … in this gigantic fur hat and fur coat, speaking in a language that nobody understood. And all the kids would run up to me and do the crazy sign and laugh and laugh and laugh, but I wouldn’t stop because that was the only language that would make me comfortable. … In speaking it, I could pretend that the people I loved were around me.”