I Named My Dog Pushkin, by Margarita Gokun Silver, is subtitled And Other Immigrant Tales, and antidoted “notes from a soviet girl on becoming an American woman.” If this doesn’t entice you to read this delightful book, reading the back cover will whet your curiosity. Silver’s book is more than memoirs. She writes in the fashion of short topical essays that are mostly the sequential memories of an idealistic, intelligent young woman with romantic aspirations.
In her introduction, Silver explains how she arrived at the title of her book. After living for sixteen years in the United States, she and her family return to Russia for employment. At her daughter’s insistence, she got a small Maltese dog and named him Pushkin after one of Russia’s most famous poets. She quickly learned that this was “so disrespectful,” especially when she had to scold him by calling his name to reprimand him for raising his leg. She was made to feel like the worst emigrant ever.
With this introduction, the author jumps right into sharing her thoughts and emotions about living in a communist country and the cultural traditions she lived with. Through numerous footnotes, she is able to clarify some of the many discrepancies she discovered between the two cultures as she tries to her chosen identity. She also translates and explains Russian language and terminology.
Although much of her story could be considered a “coming of age” tale, it is much more. Silver continues her sequence of essays with short stories that involve raising her American daughter while trying not to become her Russian mother. The contrast and complexities are often humorous and insightful.
This book would be excellent reading for high school and college courses that emphasize examining cross-cultural dynamics.