A superlative collection of stories. Destined to be the beginning of a remarkable career.
David Bezmozgis was born in Riga, Latvia, in 1973. In 1980 he emigrated with his parents to Toronto, where he lives today. This is his first book.
Bezmozgis's stunning debut collection centers on the Berman family, Latvian Jews who have immigrated to Toronto to escape stagnant Brezhnev-era Soviet life. Stoic father Roman, anxious mother Bella, and hapless but endearing son Mark each confront the sadness of exile and the strange promise of a "better life." In "The Second Strongest Man," friends visiting Roman commend him on his success and his decision to leave (in a later story, another visiting Russian confirms "Russia is shit"), even as he confides to one "I often think of going back." In "Tapka," young Mark unwittingly causes the death of the neighbor's dog when an experiment in English goes awry. When Roman offers to help her find a new one, the old woman, also a recent Russian ?migr?, can only lament, "A new one? What do you mean, a new one? New, everything we have now is new." The title story finds Mark fumbling toward something like love with the bold, intense daughter of his uncle's new wife. Taken alone, these stories are charming and pitch-perfect; together, they add up to something like life itself: funny, heartbreaking, terrible, true. Last year, a few pieces were published in Harper's, Zoetrope, and The New Yorker. Essential for fiction collections. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 2/1/04.]-Tania Barnes, "Library Journal" Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
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.
Adult/High School-Arriving with his family from Latvia in 1980, six-year-old Mark Berman embarks on his life in Toronto. In a series of seven interrelated stories, he shares his experiences in his new land. He begins with a poignant tale of adjustment and a neighbor's dog; describes his coming of age with a 14-year-old, sadly sophisticated Russian cousin by marriage, Natasha; and, finally, relates how as an adult he moves his newly widowed grandfather into a retirement home. These stories are both universal and yet very much of a time and place. Mark is defensive about his father's status and belligerent in his Jewish school, spends his teen years stoned on pot, and watches as the members of his small, close family age and die. His family bears the physical and emotional scars of World War II and years of Soviet oppression. He is very much an immigrant, yet observes the sterility of suburbia with a jaded eye. His love and respect for his parents waxes and wanes through adolescence and young adulthood. Quietly compelling, the stories will attract teens through the commonality of feeling, yet give them a wider perspective either of a life they don't know or a way to communicate a life they might be living. This small treasure trove of characters will stay in readers' minds for a long time.-Susan H. Woodcock, Fairfax County Public Library, Chantilly, VA Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
"'Exquisitely compact-rippling with wit, wisdom and compassion' Observer " "'Excellently written and quietly evocative...Haunting' Time Out " "'Captures the emotional complexities of immigration with such skill that they immediately establish this young author' Sunday Times " "'A controlled and noteworthy debut collection' Independent on Sunday" "a sharp and compassionate picture of the immigrant experience...David Bezmozgis's ear for dialogue and emotional range have established him as a gifted writer, and possibly an heir to Saul Bellow and Mordecai Richler" Observer 20051113