Have any of your family members left you anything special before they passed away? Well, my grandmother, Zoya, left me her journal.
You see—I gave it to her years ago. I had forgotten that I gave it to her. It was before she developed dementia. Before she forgot who my children were, or who she was, or where she was. Before she stopped recognizing us when we came to visit.
When I held this journal after her passing, my hands shook, and I was afraid I would find nothing but empty pages inside. Instead, I found pages and pages of her neat calligraphic handwriting. Stories about her family, stories about her childhood, stories about her love for all of us.
But one story really caught my eye. It was a story about my great-grandfather, Mark Minchin, who had to leave his family in Ukraine behind as a young man and travel to Switzerland to study at a university. The thing was that Mark really wanted to become a physician and, as a Jew, he was not allowed to study in Ukraine or Russia. Only 3-5% of Jews were allowed to enter universities at the time, due to a rule enacted by the Tsar.
I’ve never heard of this historical detail before, so I looked it up. And I couldn’t stop researching (that silly Ph.D. got in the way). I wondered what Mark’s life was like in Switzerland. I found diaries and memoirs written by other students who would’ve studied with Mark at the time. I searched through many of the archives of Swiss universities but never found Mark’s name recorded in the Admissions’ books. All I know is that he stayed until the Russian Revolution and then became a renown physician in the town of Odessa, Ukraine.
WRAPPED IN THE STARS is dedicated to my family. But also to the families of all the students who made the journey to study in Switzerland during the Great War and fight for their education.