Under US President James Carter, the United States boycotted the 1980 Olympics. He remembers the news that day. He had already fallen in love with Russian novels, especially Dostoyevsky’s work and this Tolstoy too. Now this news he watched with his father in the comfort of the family living room. He wondered about this USSR. What was this USSR?
He thought, what is life there? Similar, different? There was so much red on the screen of Moscow. Red was not just a color, but a culture, or so it seemed. Communism, what was this belief system? Was it so different? It was intriguing to imagine himself in this other place.
He kept recalling the novels and decided to read more. Something of the tactile nature of the books brought a sense of comfort, yet also a sense of disconcertment. Who were these characters in these stories and why did they bring a sense of the familiar and the different? Human commonalities were palpable even despite a variety of obvious distinctions. He grew up in a nativist, jingoistic family. America meant ethnically European. Any who did not look, talk, and act in certain prescribed ways, who lacked specific desiderata were the other, something suspicious. Such thoughts raced through his head often in the seeming comfort of home. Surrounded by parents, siblings, and extended family, such ideas ran counter to what he heard often. Home was to be a zone of the familiar, to represent these seeming ideals. For unknown reasons, the so-called other fascinated, did not repulse and terrify him.
In the midst of the Cold War then, the USSR, the great “enemy,” stirred such interests as the ultimate other, the land of the strange, the unknown, the evil empire that he recalled hearing in the presidential campaign. Questions directed at parents elicited brief retorts: the USSR was evil and wanted to destroy the US. Consistent questions generally elicited dismissive responses. Different worlds despite living in the same house.
The love of books, already extant, grew exponentially. As suggested above, they offered thoughts of distant lands, distant times, and of a world unexplored. Their physical presence, the tactile experience of them always brought comfort and questions simultaneously. They served as surrogate teachers, friends, and travels to places distant, exotic, and mysterious. They thus were both his home of a sort, familiar, yet offered desultory thoughts of something else, something experienced, felt, and yet home remained something disjointed.