Try Your Hand at “Assimilation,” by E. L. Doctorow

For busy college students like me whose reading mainly consists of textbooks and articles for class, or anyone with little time on their hands, reading full-length novels from start to finish can feel quite daunting. Luckily, there are all kinds of things to read in the bookstore, the library, or out in the World Wide Web — from 500-plus page novels, to shorter novellas or novelettes, to 10-minute short stories, and even poems that take a mere 2 minutes at the most to read.

My go-to types of reading are articles on random interesting topics and short stories because they can be read on-the-go or in one sitting. I recently read a short story titled “Assimilation,” by E. L. Doctorow, published in The New Yorker‘s November 22, 2010 edition, in the Fiction section (link to story here). This is a story about brothers, immigrants, arranged marriage, the mob, wanderlust, and love.

“Assimilation” is an immigration story — with a twist. The protagonist is a 20-something-year-old college graduate named Ramon. He works as a dishwasher at a small Russian restaurant in Brooklyn run by a foreigner known as Borislav. Somehow, he ends up agreeing to an arranged marriage with Borislav’s distant relative from Russia who wants a life in America and needs a green card. In return, he demands $3000 to fund his tuition for film school. The story follows Ramon as he gets to know his new wife, who would rather give him the cold shoulder, and navigates a suddenly dangerous situation that involves mobsters in both America and Europe.

Author E.L. Doctorow gave his source of inspiration for the story in an interview: “Where there’s a law, people will circumvent it. So you have characters with schemes, you have levels of social legitimacy. The story flows from the idea of a green card.”

I enjoyed this story because it reminded me of one of my favorite movies, The Grand Budapest Hotel (2015), which also plays on the theme of immigration, albeit in a slightly different way. The protagonists of both of these works are hard-working and have similar gentle but forceful personalities. They both have an older male benefactor with a love for large flamboyant parties. Finally, the male protagonists both show deep devotion to the one they love.

“Assimilation” is a great short read about exciting young love in the face of danger. If you have some time, give it a try!


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