My Life at First Try


A mordant dreamer, the protagonist of this first novel is deliciously at odds with his comrades in Russia; in college, the son of Jewish refugees disses a Chechen brute and barely escapes a mugging. … this soulful tale about a perpetual outsider marks a debut well worth celebrating.

–People Magazine

A novel-in-flashes “My Life at First Try” was published by Counterpoint Press in November 2008.

This semi-autobiographical debut novel chronicles the life of Alex, born in the former Soviet Union in 1950, and his dreams of becoming a writer and of meeting Annie, his distant American cousin. As a child, Alex observes a group of foreign tourists do something that non-drunk Soviet adults seldom do: they laugh. Alex yearns 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 society where conformity is institutionalized. Hilarious and sometimes sobering, the book’s 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 he is finally a foreigner—not the happy foreigner of his dream, but an alien. Ultimately, Alex 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.

Publishers Weekly described it this way: “This blazingly fast and funny ‘semi-autobiographical’ novel follows a Russian man’s comically earnest pursuit of the American dream.” The novel is available in book stores nationwide and it received good reviews from Kirkus Review, Booklist, Publishers Weekly, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Washington Post, The Boston Globe, Time Out Chicago, The Bloomsbury Review and was featured in Ingram’s Advance. It received 3.5 stars out of 4 from People Magazine (12/08/08).

YouTube            Excerpt            At the New Yorker             Reviews

The bad news is that a life can’t be declared a success while the person is still living. The good news is that it can’t be declared a failure.

I wish I could say that I wrote this book with a pen of iron with the point of a diamond upon the tablet of my heart. Yet this kind of writing is not my style, and these words have already been taken by a writer infinitely better then I. I wrote this book in its final form on my computer, in the overstuffed comfort of a spare bedroom in my suburban house, but it began to shape in my mind as soon as I discovered what the words “shape” and “mind” are.

It may not be the story of my life as it actually happened, and definitely not as I wish it happened. It’s the story of a typical man of my background and generation, whose dreams, nightmares, desires, failures and accomplishments I still feel inside my skin. Tragedy makes a rich blood meal for a growing plant. Comedy adds water. This book is a balance of both.


Mark Budman