Russian-Italian Dictionary

Relationship: Child of im/migrant
My dad's Russian-Italian dictionary
My dad's Russian-Italian dictionary

My father was born in Kiev, Ukraine in 1964, back when it was a part of the Soviet Union. He frequently characterized his childhood as difficult and traumatizing, having been one of very few Jewish children at his school. He grew very attached to his Jewish identity because of the derision he faced growing up, which only emboldened his desire to be closer to his people. His naturally intelligent and eloquent character followed him throughout his life. When he and his family emigrated from the USSR in the late 1970s, they had a brief 6-month stay in Italy. My grandparents purchased my father this Russian-Italian dictionary, which he consulted constantly in his attempts to learn the language, despite how short his stay in Italy turned out to be. By the time his stay was up, he was decently conversational in Italian and used this skill to help him transition into speaking English when he arrived in Brooklyn, where he had much more than a pocket dictionary to help him learn the language--he had the works of Hemingway and Aristotle and Descartes and many many more. 

I like to think of this dictionary of a small but telling window into my father's childhood. It followed him from his birth town in Ukraine to his short-lived home in Italy all the way to New York City, where it now sits in his home office. It is a humbling reminder of far he and his family have come in life, and how far and hard they were forced to travel to pursue their American Dream.

Place(s): Russia, Brooklyn
Year: 1977

– Frances Shnaidman

Relationship:  Child of im/migrant Child of im/migrant