A dazzling debut, and a publishing phenomenon: the tender, savagely funny collection from a young immigrant who has taken the critics by storm.
Few readers had heard of David Bezmozgis before May 2003, when Harper's, Zoetrope, and The New Yorker all printed stories from his forthcoming collection. In the space of a few weeks, America thus met 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.
Told through Mark's eyes, the stories in Natasha possess a serious wit and uniquely Jewish perspective that recall the first published stories of Bernard Malamud and Philip Roth, not to mention the recent work of Jhumpa Lahiri, Nathan Englander, and Adam Haslett.
David Bezmozgis became an overnight star when he published stories in the holy trinity of American magazines for fiction lovers: The New Yorker
, and Zoetrope
. With the publication of his first book, Natasha
, he has been compared to Chekhov and Philip Roth, and the comparison is more than just promotional copy. Natasha
follows the experiences of a family of Russian Jews who settle in Toronto and set about reinventing themselves. The loosely connected stories are narrated by the son, Mark, who attempts to understand not only his new world but also his parents. As the book progresses, his growth into the frustrations of adolescence mirrors his family's disappointments as they attempt to escape their old lives in the immigrant ghetto and create new identities. Bezmozgis calls the stories "autobiographical fiction," as they are largely inspired by his own family's past, but make no mistake, these are fully realized works of literature, complete with an attention to language and an eye for detail that invoke the best of minimalist writing. Bezmozgis doesn't reinvent the form here--he sticks to traditional themes such as the search for self and cultural dislocation--but he tells his stories with a grace and quiet sensitivity that's so rare these days it's practically an endangered species.
And there are a couple of literary masterpieces in Natasha. The title story, which relates Mark's sexual experimentation with a cousin by marriage during a summer spent dealing drugs, manages to be both a touching coming-of-age tale and one of the freshest inversions of the suburban dream in years. "The Second Strongest Man," a story of the reunion of Mark's family with a Russian weightlifter, manages to conflate the decline of the Russia with the emptiness of North American life in its tale of aging men whose time has passed them by. Bezmozgis divides his time between Canada and the U.S., but Natasha is international in the scope of its subjects--modern Russia, Toronto's immigrant communities, Judaism, various translations of the American dream. It's the literature of globalization, and Bezmozgis has proven himself to be a global writer. --Peter Darbyshire, Amazon.ca