David Bezmozgis's remarkable stories have already been acclaimed in the US and Canada when three appeared almost simultaneously in the New Yorker, Harper's and Zoetrope. In the space of a few weeks, these magazines introduced readers to the Bermans - Bella and Roman and their son Mark - Russian Jews who have fled the Riga of Brezhnev for Toronto, ...
David Bezmozgis's remarkable stories have already been acclaimed in the US and Canada when three appeared almost simultaneously in the New Yorker, Harper's and Zoetrope. In the space of a few weeks, these magazines introduced readers to the Bermans - Bella and Roman and their son Mark - Russian Jews who have fled the Riga of Brezhnev for Toronto, the city of their dreams. Natasha brings the Bermans - and the Russian Jewish enclaves of Toronto - to life in stories full of big, desperate, utterly believable consequence. In 'Tapka', six-year-old Mark's first experiments in English bring ruin and near tragedy to the neighbours upstairs. In 'Roman Berman, Massage Therapist', Roman and Bella stake all their hopes for Roman's business on their first, humiliating dinner with a North American family. In the title story, a stark, funny anatomy of first love, we witness Mark's sexual awakening at the hands of his fourteen-year-old cousin, a new immigrant from the New Russia. Bezmozgis writes with clarity and compassion about the pains and joys of immigration. Sad but comic, his stories are the literature of an immigrant community whose story has yet to be told, and their chronicler possesses an extraordinary gift.
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This is a collection of short stories that reads more like a novel. The stories are all told by the same first person narrator who is a young boy in "Tapka" the first story in the collection and a grown man in "Minyan" the final story in the collection. The stories describe the experiences of a family of Soviet Era Russian Jews and their experience living as immigrants in Toronto.
The stories are populated with real and interesting characters. The tone is stark and somewhat bleak. The realism at times makes us think that there must be a fair amount of biographical details, especially judging by the information about Bezmozgis provided on the jacket flap.
The collection is on the short side. There is nothing earth-shattering or ground-breaking here. These are simple, but haunting stories told in a readable style.
Publishers Weekly, 2004-04-19 Like the author of this remarkable debut collection of seven linked stories, the protagonist, Mark Berman, emigrated with his parents from Latvia to Toronto in 1980. Bezmozgis writes with subtlety and control, moving from Mark's boyhood arrival in Canada to his adult reckoning with his grandparents' decline, rendering the immigrant experience with powerful specificity of character, place and history. "This was 1983, and as Russian Jews, recent immigrants, and political refugees, we were still a cause. We had good PR," he writes in "Roman Berman, Massage Therapist," about the humiliations of turning to well-meaning but condescending Canadian Jews for financial help. Bezmozgis also considers North American Jewish identity, as in "An Animal to the Memory," which interrogates the centrality of the Holocaust and victimhood to the Jewish sense of self. His stories are as compassionate as they are critical. In "Minyan," Mark attends synagogue with his grandfather: "Most of the old Jews came because they were drawn by the nostalgia for ancient cadences, I came because I was drawn by the nostalgia for old Jews. In each case, the motivation was not tradition but history." The collection's strength lies in how Bezmozgis layers the specifics of Russian-Jewish experience with universal childhood and adolescent dilemmas. The title story, about Mark's sexual escapades with his 14-year-old cousin by marriage, evokes both his stoner, suburban "subterranean life" and the numbing exigencies of Natasha's adolescence in Russia. In "Tapka," about the fate of a cosseted dog, Bezmozgis captures the insecurity and loneliness of recent immigrants while suggesting a child's guilty psychology with utter believability. These complex, evocative stories herald the arrival of a significant new voice. Agent, Ira Silverberg. (June) Forecast: Jeffrey Eugenides compares Bezmozgis to Chekhov and Babel, while T.C. Boyle says his prose "reads like the work of a past master." FSG is pushing this lead spring title with an author tour of at least seven cities (they've already sponsored a pre-publication tour dubbed "Bezmozgispalooza") and national advertising, almost guaranteeing that Natasha will be one of the rare collections that hits big. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
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