Skip to main content
Open Access Publications from the University of California

UC San Diego

UC San Diego Electronic Theses and Dissertations bannerUC San Diego

Rootless Cosmopolitans : : Literature of the Soviet-Jewish Diaspora


By the end of the twentieth century, Russian-speaking Jews solidified their reputation as emigrants and refugees - a people without a home. This was because the turn of the twenty-first century saw large waves of Jewish emigration out of the former Soviet Union. This emigration produced a new diaspora and new cultural identities shaped by Soviet history, the experience of relocation and contact with host-cultures, particularly Israel and the United States. Scholars, artists and policy-makers have had a difficult time fitting ex-Soviet Jews into existing identity categories. Consequently, Russian-speaking Jews came to be perceived within their new homelands as inauthentic Jews as a result of their cultural hybridity. Moreover, ex- Soviet Jews' lingering attachments to the former Soviet Union, ambivalence about putting down new roots, and reluctance to view their immigration to Israel as a return to their Promised Land, have compromised dominant theories of Jewish belonging. In this dissertation, I argue that Soviet Jews inspire "rootless cosmopolitanism," a theory of a de-essentialized and deterritorialized cultural identity. I derive this theory from the close textual analysis of contemporary literature about late-twentieth- century Soviet-Jewish emigration, which I contextualize within historical, anthropological and sociological studies on Russian-speaking Jewish immigrants. More specifically, I compare the fictional works published between 1990 and 2010 by a transnational group of authors that includes Dina Rubina and Liudmila Ulitskaia, who publish in Russian, and Gary Shteyngart and David Bezmozgis, who publish in English. I argue that these authors re-cast Jewish immigrants as rootless cosmopolitans, or members of a hybrid diaspora who manifest context-dependent strategies of self-fashioning. I show that, in this way, post-Soviet fiction portrays Jewish identity as an interpretive process, rather than inborn trait, and re-maps Jewish space, thus disrupting the dichotomy of homeland and exile that defines traditional models of Jewish diaspora. These interventions overlap with theories of diaspora beyond the Jewish context. Finally, I emphasize the applicability of "rootless cosmopolitanism" for other studies of transnational groups that confront issues of identity and location simultaneously

Main Content
For improved accessibility of PDF content, download the file to your device.
Current View