"Anything Can Happen", "Anything Can Happen" by George & Helen Papashvily, 2020 MillersTime Favorite Reads, Ellis Island, George Papashvily, George Seaton, Helen Waite, Helen Waite Papashvily, Immigrant Story, Jose Ferrer, Kim Hunter
I just finished reading what will definitely be one of my Favorite Reads of 2021: Anything Can Happen by George & Helen Waite Papashvily (NF).
I know. I know. I just posted the 2020 Favorite Reads, and here I am already making a list for this new year. But there’s no doubt this wonderful, uplifting story will be at the top of my list, and I’ll reread before the end of the year and encourage others to read it too.
But first, how I came to find and read Anything Can Happen:
My father, Sam Miller, was not a person who cared about acquisitions, except for his books and his chess table. When my mother died in Florida and he subsequentially came to live in DC, the one thing he wanted to bring was his library. And of course, we readily agreed. When he died, I inherited that collection.
I always knew that Sam’s father, Tom, had frequently given him books on his birthday, and these were Sam’s most prized possessions. For years now I have been meaning to look more closely at the books Tom gave Sam, with the possible idea of reading every one.
And so with the ‘enforced’ and extended time at home, four days ago I went through Sam’s treasures. I was surprised to find there were 40 books from his father, each inscribed, including the date given.
(I was also surprised to find five volumes Sam had taken from the University of New Hampshire Library, where he had been a student for a year and a half before leaving college to go to work and also a half dozen books from the Orland Public Library, where Sam was a known offender for keeping books long overdue before, sometimes, returning them.)
There were other books in Sam’s collection that I didn’t remember ever seeing – three from Tom to me and one from my mother’s parents.
Since I wasn’t ready to commit to reading the 40, I thought I’d start with the one from Esty’s parents, Anything Can Happen, a slim volume given to her and Sam when I was just two years old.
What a pure delight.
And not just because it was from my grandparents to my parents and was now in my book collection.
Anything Can Happen (hereafter referred to as ACH) was originally published in serialized form and became a Book of the Month Club best seller in January 1945 (600,000 copies sold in the US and 1.5 million worldwide). It was also turned into a movie directed by George Seaton and starring Jose Ferrer & Kim Hunter.
ACH is the (mostly?) true story of George Papashvily, an immigrant from a village in Caucasian Georgia who came to Ellis Island in 1923 after being an apprenticed sword maker and ornamental leather worker. He was a sniper in the Russian army in WWI, and after his return to Georgia, he fought against the Red Army before fleeing to Istanbul and then on to the US.
Together with the writing assistance of his American born wife, Helen Waite, ACH tells in broken English about his life from the time he arrived here and continues through one memorable experience after another. It is told with a wonderful sense of self-deprecating humor as he discovers that his new country is not exactly a “land of milk and honey.”
It is the quintessential story of an immigrant, one who is able to find humor in situations that could easily be overwhelming and discouraging to many others. Helen helps George tell his stories, many of which are “foibles of his own making.” (see NYTimes article, March 31, 1978 upon his death).
While Anything Can Happen can stand alone because of how well these stories are told and who George happens to be – a loving, decent, creative, curious, clever, hardworking immigrant with dreams and never-ending optimism, I think it is also one of the stories of America, one that some of us may recognize, and many can appreciate.
I suspect I will not be the only MillersTime reader too have Anything Can Happen on his or her Favorite Reads list 11 months from now.