Winner of the VCU Cabell First Novelist Award
Winner of the American Library Association's Sophie Brody Medal
Finalist for the National Jewish Book Award
A singularly talented writer makes his literary debut with this provocative, soulful, and sometimes hilarious story of a failed journalist asked to do the unthinkable: Forge Holocaust-restitution claims for old Russian Jews in Brooklyn, New York.
Yevgeny Gelman, grandfather of Slava Gelman, “didn’t suffer in the exact way” he needs to have suffered to qualify for the restitution the German government has been paying out to Holocaust survivors. But suffer he has—as a Jew in the war; as a second-class citizen in the USSR; as an immigrant to America. So? Isn’t his grandson a “writer”?
High-minded Slava wants to put all this immigrant scraping behind him. Only the American Dream is not panning out for him—Century, the legendary magazine where he works as a researcher, wants nothing greater from him. Slava wants to be a correct, blameless American—but he wants to be a lionized writer even more.
Slava’s turn as the Forger of South Brooklyn teaches him that not every fact is the truth, and not every lie a falsehood. It takes more than law-abiding to become an American; it takes the same self-reinvention in which his people excel. Intoxicated and unmoored by his inventions, Slava risks exposure. Cornered, he commits an irrevocable act that finally grants him a sense of home in America, but not before collecting a price from his family.
A Replacement Life is a dark, moving, and beautifully written novel about family, honor, and justice.
The debut novel from Fishman shines with a love for language and craft. Minsk-born 25-year-old Slava Gelman has made it to the bottom of top-tier journalism. He's junior staff at Century magazine, and he's just been given a shot at a byline. But the death of his Holocaust-survivor grandmother throws self-involved Slava's life out of focus. His grandfather a quick-to-brag but resourceful man who "gets things" pressures Slava into forging a restitution claim letter for Slava's deceased grandmother, then spreads the news around his South Brooklyn neighborhood of Slava's availability to write such fraudulent letters. Soon, Slava finds himself sharing secrets with strangers whose war stories, full of "the oddly specific details he had come to learn make a narrative feel authentic," leave him feeling much closer to his grandmother. Fishman's description of the precious information that grandparents pass down is beautiful; their memories have been a burden for Slava, whose grandfather's meandering stories about Soviet life leave him "feeling like a failure because he was letting gold slip away in a fast-moving river," but he learns their real value in the course of this forging scheme. Writers like Slava, and like Fishman, have a responsibility to do justice to the beauty in the details, and Fishman achieves that handily here.