From Tajikistan to the Moon by Robert Frimtzis

From Tajikistan to the Moon is a self-published memoir. Rather glamorously self-published, too, compared to the current trend for self-publishing via print-on-demand, in that it’s a proper hardback with an embossed cover. Frimtzis was born in Beltz (i.e. Bălţi) in what is now Moldova, although when he was born there it was part of Romania and from 1940 onwards it was part of the Soviet Union.

Frimtzis was ten when Germany attacked the Soviet Union in 1941. Although of course they couldn’t know the full scale of the Holocaust, they knew enough about the anti-semitism of the Nazis that his family took the decision to flee eastwards. After hundreds of miles on foot, keeping ahead of the German army and under aerial attack, they got onto the train network in Ukraine and carried on to Tajikistan, where they had relatives.

After the war they managed to get themselves smuggled out of the USSR through Romania and Austria to Italy, and then after some time in the refugee camps, to immigrate to America. There he studied hard, became an engineer, and eventually contributed to the Apollo programme — hence the moon part of the title.

So he has an interesting story to tell. He’s not the world’s greatest prose stylist, but at least it’s plain, straightforward prose; if it’s occasionally a bit clunky, at least it’s not painful in the way that bad literary prose can be. It kept my attention.

For me, the most interesting part of it is the refugee narrative; his experience as an internal refugee within the Soviet Union, then in an Italian refugee camp, and continuing with his struggles to adapt in the US, where he was self-conscious about his outsider status and his bad English as he worked to carve out a place for himself within American society. Which he eventually did very successfully. The more stable his life becomes in America, the less interesting the book becomes; even though he worked on some truly fascinating projects in his professional life, I don’t think he really brings that to life. He doesn’t manage to explain what was interesting about the work itself.

From Tajikistan to the Moon is my book for Moldova for the Read The World challenge.

» The photo is of crew in the Apollo Lunar Module Mission Simulator… which I think is actually the wrong bit of equipment. Frimtzis was in charge of the team working on the Apollo Mission Simulator, which I think is the simulator for the command module rather than the lunar lander. But I really like the picture, so  it’s close enough.

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