Natasha And Other Stories

David Bezmozgis

Picador

0312423934

9780312423933

Trade Paperback

160 Pages

$16.00

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A New York Times Notable Book
A San Francisco Chronicle Best Book
A Chicago Tribune Best Book
Winner of the Commonwealth Prize
A Los Angeles Times Best Book of the Year
Finalist for the Art Seidenbaum Award

Winner of the Writers' Guild of Canada’s Danuta Gleed Literary Award for Short Fiction
Winner of the Canadian Jewish Book Award
Shortlisted for the Frank O'Connor International Short Story Award
Shortlisted for the Guardian First Book Award
Shortlisted for the Governor-General’s Award

Title Story Included in the 2005 Best American Short Stories

The New Yorker, Harper's, and Zoetrope introduced America 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.

A debut collection of rare skill and verve, Natasha chronicles the family saga of the Bermans in stories full of heart and consequence. In "Tapka," six-year-old Mark's first experiments in English bring ruin and near tragedy to the neighbors upstairs. In "Roman Berman, Massage Therapist," Roman and Bella stake all their hopes for Roman's business on their first 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. In "Minyan," Mark and his grandfather watch as the death of an Odessan cabdriver sets off a religious controversy among the residents of a Jewish old-people's home.

The stories in Natasha capture the immigrant experience with wit and deep sympathy. Their evocation of boyhood and youth, and the battle for selfhood in a passionately loving Jewish family, recalls the early work of Bernard Malamud, Leonard Michaels, and Philip Roth.

REVIEWS

Praise for Natasha

"An authority one usually finds only in more seasoned writers."—Meghan O’Rouke, The New York Times Book Review

"A slim, well-observed collection."—D. T. Max, The Nation

"An effervescent debut . . . A familiar tale of dislocation and assimilation with enough humor, honesty, and courage to make it new again . . . If the last page of 'Tapeka' doesn’t stop your heart, maybe it was never beating."—O magazine

"Deft . . . Humane but unblinkingly unsentimental . . . Fine stories [that are] thick with memorable characters."—John Biguenet, Chicago Tribune

"Exquisitely crafted stories. A first collection that reads like the work of a past master."—T. Coraghessan Boyle

"While the immigrant experience in the United States has been much explored, Bezmozgis's less familiar shores are refreshing . . . The voice in Natasha is assured, inviting, and warm."—The Economist

"A 30-year-old Canadian writer makes a commanding debut with an openhearted book that combines melancholy and hope. Its seven stories offer a portrait of a family of Latvian Jews just after they emigrate to Toronto in 1979. Told from the perspective of the Bermans' only child, Mark, this is a piercingly honest account of what that family gains and loses through assimilation. The title story, in which 16-year-old Mark is obliged to supervise his troubled Russian step-cousin, is a knockout."—The Baltimore Sun

"[The] dynamic between American Jews and their greenhorn Russian counterparts is portrayed in a creepy and painfully funny way by David Bezmozgis in 'Roman Berman, Massage Therapist,' one of the best pieces in Natasha and Other Stories . . . In a wonderfully dry, understated, well-paced manner that evokes the style of the late New York Russian-language fiction writer Sergei Dovlatov, Bezmozgis captures [in this story] what is, believe it or not, a type-scene of the Soviet Jewish immigrant experience. Simple detail and precise timing let such scenes resonate."—Val Vinokur, Boston Review

"Here in Europe the talk this year has been all about the new writing coming out of Russia. David Bezmozgis shows that this energy extends to the Russian diaspora as well. In Natasha Bezmozgis renders something of the clear-sighted melancholy associated with Chekhov or Babel into English prose and a North American context. With a maturity and control far beyond his years, Mr. Bezmozgis has produced a captivating and impressive debut. The title story itself is one I will never forget."—Jeffrey Eugenides

"Dazzling, hilarious, and hugely compassionate narratives [written with] freshness and precision . . . Readers will find themselves laughing out loud, then gasping as Bezmozgis brings these fictions to the searing, startling, and perfectly pitched conclusions that remind us that, as Babel said, 'on iron can stab the heart so powerfully as a period put in exactly in the right place.'"—Francine Prose, People

"Sad, funny, tender tales . . . [Bezmozgis] moves us along through the vagarities of assimilation and coming-of-age, often hilarious, occasionally humiliating . . . Throughout, the scenes are finely observed, rich in sensory detail . . . Shadows of Philip Roth, Isaac Babel, and Leonard Michaels may hover beneficently in the wings but it is Bezmozgis's pure, quirky humanity that shines in this deeply original debut collection."—Judith Felsenfeld, Jewish Book World

"Passionately full of life . . . Often ebullient and warmly comic. . . [Bezmozgis has] considerable talents."—James Wood, London Review of Books

"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, 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 émigré, 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 . . . Essential for fiction collections."—Library Journal

"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, Virginia, School Library Journal

"Seven stories in a debut collection [that] chronologically traces the experiences of a family of Russian Jews living in Toronto. Thirty-year-old Latvian-born (now Canadian) author Bezmozgis introduces us to the stories' common narrator, Mark Berman, as a six-year-old in 'Tapka,' which recounts Mark's parents' and his own efforts to learn English, their relationship with a childless pair of fellow immigrants devoted to their pet dog, and the painful consequences of Mark's carelessness, expressed as he brandishes his new language skills. The difficulties of assimilation into an unfamiliar culture are experienced by Mark's father as he awkwardly attempts to establish his own business ('Roman Berman, Massage Therapist'), a cocky young weightlifter from the old country who loses his celebrity and self-assurance at an international competition ('The Second Strongest Man'), and preadolescent Mark himself, as he keeps getting into fights at Hebrew school and is admonished, on 'Holocaust Day,' by a stern, sorrowful rabbi ('An Animal to the Memory'). In the wry title story, 16-year-old Mark is introduced to sex and confirmed in other bad habits by his precociously jaded younger cousin Natasha. This is the funniest, and loosest of the tales, notable also for the peripheral character of Mark's phlegmatic criminal 'contact' Rufus, a bookish drug peddler with amusingly diversified business interests. The two final stories widen Mark's understanding—of the fact of mortality, during the summer when his 'researches' into the history of an obscure Jewish heavyweight boxer ('Choynski') coincide with his beloved babushka's death; and of the embracing comfort of the religion he has taken for granted, when his widowed grandfather enters an old age home threatened by jealousy and prejudice ('Minyan'). Bezmogis's spare, confrontational tales thus take many unexpected turns, but their humanity and poignancy strike the deepest notes. Shades of Isaac Babel, Leonard Michaels, and Aleksandar Hemon in a nevertheless irresistibly original first book."—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

Reviews from Goodreads

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BOOK EXCERPTS

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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.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

  • David Bezmozgis

  • David Bezmozgis 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.
  • David Bezmozgis Copyright Greg Martin
    David Bezmozgis

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