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Natasha



Awards: Guardian First Book Award - Nominee, Nominee; L.A. Times Book Prize - Finalist, First Fiction

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About The Author

David BezmozgisDavid Bezmozgis

David Bezmozgis (Bez-MOZE-ghis) was born in Riga, Latvia, in 1973. In 1980 he immigrated with his parents to Toronto, where he lives today. This is his first book.

photo: Copyright Greg Martin

Awards

Guardian First Book Award - Nominee, Nominee
L.A. Times Book Prize - Finalist, First Fiction

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Discussion Questions

1. In "Tapka" what does the dog symbolize to Rita? To Mark’s mother? What is the significance of the dog to Mark, initially as a young boy and then as a mature narrator? On page 9, Mark observes, "we had intuited an elemental truth: love needs no leash." Do you agree? How does his observation relate to the events in "Tapka"? Does the story end happily or tragically? Explain.

2. Despite being set in Canada, do you think the struggles faced by the Bermans in "Roman Berman, Massage Therapist" might apply to other immigrants elsewhere in the world, particularly America? Explain. Why is Doctor Kornblum interested in the Bermans? When the family leaves the Kornblums, Mark wonders, "As we walked back to the Pontiac it was unclear whether nothing or everything had changed" (p 36). Do you think anything changed? Explain.

3. In what ways is "The Second Strongest Man" a continuation of the themes introduced in "Roman Berman, Massage Therapist"? Does the second story resolve some of the questions posed in the earlier story? Explain. Why is Roman’s confession to Gregory on page 60, stating that he often thinks of returning to Russia, a significant moment in the story? By the end, how do you think Mark views his father’s situation versus that of Gregory?

4. How is the story "An Animal To The Memory" about both the rejection and acceptance of one’s cultural identity? What conflicting messages does Mark receive about his heritage? On page 69, Mark’s mother says that he is not leaving Hebrew school until he learns what it is to be a Jew. Does Gurvich finally teach Mark what it means to be a Jew? How?

5. In the title story, how does Bezmozgis gradually reveal that Natasha is not like other girls that Mark has met? How do Mark, Natasha and Zina each view sex differently? On page 94, do you think that Mark and Natasha’s discussion about sexuality objectification reveals anything about men’s and women’s attitude toward sex in general? Why? On page 104, Natasha accuses Mark of being like his uncle, of wanting people to make his decisions for him. Do you agree? Explain. By the story’s end, what has Natasha taught Mark about himself?

6. In "Choynski," how do the events leading to the deaths of Mark’s grandmother and Charley Davis mirror each other? How does the story’s narrative structure contribute to this mirroring effect? What do Joe Choynski and the theme of fighting symbolize in the story as a whole? Why do you think it’s so important that Mark return his grandmother’s false teeth to her? What does the story seem to be saying about the importance of the things that people leave behind after they die?

7. In "Minyan," why does Bezmozgis never define the exact nature of Itzik and Herschel’s relationship? Do you think that defining it would change the story’s meaning? Explain. According to Zalman, what will happen to Herschel? Do you think that "Minyan" is a fitting end to Natasha? Why?

8. Do you think that reading Natasha’s stories together, in the order they are arranged, offers a different experience than if you were to read the stories independently in a magazine? Why? In what ways is Natasha more like a novel than other story collections you may have read?

9. Do you think that being Jewish or a Russian immigrant alters how you read the stories in Natasha? In what ways do the stories transcend the specificity of their characters’ experience and become universal? Which stories and characters in Natasha did you most relate to? Explain.

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