From Chapter 1

Incurable Condition Revealed by My Passport

“Zdravstvuyite!” I address the medical school admitting committee, whose five members sit behind a long, red-draped desk, and my voice echoes through the large, square room with students’ desks and chairs piled up against the walls. One of the committee members silently points to the lone chair in front of them. Nervously biting my lip, I sit on its edge, desperately searching for the slightest clue to the news they are about to deliver. But these men are so preoccupied with looking over my paperwork and my passport that my glance can’t penetrate their frozen faces.

Suddenly, the bomb explodes: “You are a Jew!” says one of them, his vodka-corroded face twisting into a grin, “and even though you’ve passed all your entrance exams, we cannot accept you.”

“You see, my dear,” another one leans toward me, hissing, “even if we educate you, you will probably flee Mother Russia to work for the filthy, capitalistic Americans.” He glares at me insolently, stripping me of my dream of becoming a doctor.

“Don’t cry,” I tell myself. “Don’t you dare cry in front of them!” I clench my jaw and squeeze my fists, but inside I feel exposed and humiliated, as if I am standing naked in front of these sweating, obscene faces. I take my passport, still opened to the page revealing my ethnicity –  as if being Jewish is some kind of malicious disease – and my papers, stamped ‘REJECTED’ in blood-red ink, and leave the office. Tears roll down my cheeks and I am shaking. I wish my mom was here, but she is still with my dad in Siberia, on the air base where he’s a pilot.

I barely remember the bus ride back to my grandma’s, walking up to the third floor and entering an empty apartment where I burst into tears, sobbing the mantra, “It’s not fair.”

It’s been unfair for all these years, since I was eight-years-old and moved with my parents to a remote village up north, the only air base where my Jewish father was allowed to be a pilot. I didn’t belong there, in Siberia, and had only two names: City Girl and Dirty Jew. Dark memories flood my mind as I remember the time when, coming home from school, I saw sinister shadows on the porch. Helpless, I watched as two of them held my kitten up while the third cut her tail off…