In this semi-autobiographical debut novel, Mark Budman chronicles the life of the modern Russian Jewish immigrant. My Life at First Try is the story of Alex, born in Siberia in 1950, and his dreams of becoming a writer and of meeting Annie, his distant American cousin.
When still a child, Alex observes a group of foreign tourists who are as strange to him as space aliens. Unlike grim Soviet grown-ups, they did something that non-drunk adults seldom did: they laughed. Alex yearned to become one of them-a free and happy foreigner.
Those aspirations quickly fade as Alex begins to encounter the absurdities and constraints of living in a Communist society where conformity is institutionalized. Hilarious and sometimes sobering, short chapters chronicle making it through the army, mastering the English language, sex, and meeting the girl of his dreams.
In 1980, Alex and his young family finally get the chance to move to America. There he realizes that his dream has come true: he is finally a foreigner, not the happy foreigner of his dream, but an alien. Alex eventually discovers the rhythms, the disappointments, and the small pleasures of suburban life in upstate New York. He even gets to meet his cousin Annie. Ultimately, he finds his own place in the world, despite the fact that having the right “to vote for an elephant or an ass” does not necessarily guarantee self-fulfillment.