Saturday, January 15, 2011

My Escape To America, by Leonid Pereverzev (2001)

Previously: Leonid Pereverzev, and What I Owe Him

Here is the excerpt from Leonid Pereverzev's book that I promised to post - a few pages that I translated to English, a stunning autobiographical short story, which, I am sure, many of my English-speaking readers will find incredibly fierce and mind-opening.
I would be grateful for corrections, posted here in comments or mailed to moshkow at - after all, English is not my native tongue.

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My Escape To America

I defected to America soon after I turned seven, in the late autumn of 1937. Before the [1917] revolution such thing was far from being not heard of: Russian boys, having read books about courageous trappers, frontier pioneers, last of the Mohicans and other remarkable "red-skins," often tried to escape to the New World. All to often they failed: the defectors were caught and returned to under their fathers' roof before they could make it to the nearest railway station, leave alone the nearest seaport.

By the mid-1930s, however, the idea of fleeing to America became obsolete. The very thought of running abroad would not encourage even the dreamiest of the dreamers or the most adventurous of adventurers of the boys my age. That thought simply could not, or had absolutely no moral right to, come in their heads. Everybody understood that if it was in fact needed, they would send you to the other side with a special, and very dangerous, mission. The hero of the era acted according to an order, not his free will. Act on your own, at your own risk, aside f the plans and orders from the older and more experienced comrades, without their preliminary fatherly approval, their critical notes, their invaluable advice, their concrete instructions on what you, due to your lack of experience, or forgot, or judged wrong, or just did not think of - it always meant a disastrous end, as we were tirelessly reminded of by radio plays, motion pictures, and illustrated books.

Everybody knew that the Soviet Union was encircled with a solid circle of perfidious enemies, and we knew their images well. With their disgustingly scowled pig-wolf mugs, contorted with rage towards the first-ever state of workers and peasants, dripping with malicious saliva, they waited for nothing but to sink their poisoned daggers (already bloody on all propaganda posters, as if from previous terrible crimes) into the next victim, another brave boy who attempted to stand against them.

And everybody knew, and never doubted, that the border was impossible to cross, not only from the outside, but from the inside as well, as all the motion pictures about the brave border guard Karatsupa and his brave dog Indus told us. They were alert, night and day, and so were the faceless, but nevertheless omnipresent authorities, immensely loved by the people, as the popular songs of the day tirelessly reminded.

So I have not tried to run away by firm land, or by sea, or by air. I was lucky enough to find a different type of a loophole, to fool their constant vigilance and, in spite of all their traps, fences, and obstacles, to reach my America, figurally speaking, in just one leap.

You would ask me: what led me there, and how was I able to get there?

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