Gigglers: I’m not going to seek out the newest hardcovers and tell you whether or not to buy them. And while not the Sunday Review, this Sunday blog will explore my brilliant and fascinating thoughts about books. Please use the comments section to share your own thoughts on this book, or whatever you’re reading.
David Bezmozgis is a guy who gets teens, and if you’ve learned anything about my subject preference, you know that I love writers who tap into those heated, confusing years. But his book, Natasha and Other Stories, really follows Mark Berman from early childhood through some undisclosed age probably in his twenties. Mark’s family escapes Russia in 1980 to Toronto, where they live the life of Jewish Russian immigrants starting over. But Mark isn’t starting over so much as starting life in general. The first few years are rocky, but soon enough he assimilates into your average pot-selling teen.
“Natasha” is by far the most riveting story, in which Mark’s uncle marries a Russian woman who moves to Toronto with her fourteen-year-old daughter Natasha. Natasha hates her mother and spends all of her time at Mark’s house with him during the day and his family at night. Mark and Natasha mess around until her mother finds out. It’s realistic despite the drama, and personal without being told how to feel. Bezmozgis shares these stories like the reader is a fly on the wall, but Mark’s experiences come through in a multi-dimensional way that never feels explained.
We watch Mark grow up and learn about the stages an immigrant family goes through to acclimate to a new country, for the parents to rebuild their careers and kids to feel like insiders. It’s nothing like what I experienced growing up as an American with non-immigrant parents. And when my ancestors did immigrate, it was a long, long time ago. But the Berman’s history is still my history in a way, because once upon a time, my relatives did immigrate from Russia. They came to the states, not to Canada, but one thing is for sure—their struggles have made my life infinitely easier.
If you pare it down, the broader issues in these stories are common to a lot of us: feeling like an outsider, struggling to make money, finding ourselves, trust in relationships and the ways in which religion confines and enriches us. These stories follow the Bermans through all of that through the eyes of Mark.
On another note, Bezmozgis, also a screenwriter, and wrote a film called Victoria Day about some Canadian teenagers and it’s wonderful. Also, his new book, The Free World, I have not yet gotten to, but I heard him read an excerpt and it’s very much worth your time.
Image from Bezmozgis.com
Top image via Macmillan