Now a Major Motion Picture
A dazzling debut—and a publishing phenomenon—the tender, savagely funny collection from a young immigrant who has taken the critics by storm
Winner of the Commonwealth Writers' First Book Prize for Canada and the Caribbean, the Toronto Book Award, Reform Judaism Prize for Jewish Fiction, Koffler Centre of the Arts' Helen and Stan Vine Canadian Jewish Book Award for Fiction, the City of Toronto Book Award, the Jewish Quarterly-Wingate Prize for Fiction, and the Moment Magazine Fiction Award
Shortlisted for the Guardian First Book Award, the Los Angeles Times Art Seidenbaum Award for First Fiction, and the Governor General’s Award for Literature, the Danuta Gleed Literary Award for Best First Collection of Short Fiction in the English Language
Named a New York Times Book Review Notable Book of the Year, a Los Angeles Times' 1 of the 25 Best Books of the Year, a New York Public Library's 25 Best Books to Remember, and a Chicago Tribune and San Francisco Chronicle Best Book of the Year
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.
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. and national advertising, almost guaranteeing that Natasha will be one of the rare collections that hits big.