Novelist Gary Shteyngart emigrated to Queens from the Soviet Union in 1979 at the age of 7. In his memoir, Little Failure, he writes about adjusting to life in a country he had been taught to think was the enemy. In his interview he talks to Terry Gross about his struggle to learn English:
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.
image via townhall seattle
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