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Natasha: And Other Stories by David…

Natasha: And Other Stories (2004)

by David Bezmozgis

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3.5 stars

This is a book of short stories focusing on Russian Jews who have immigrated to Toronto, Ontario.

I liked that these stories followed the same people, or the same general group of people, and the same characters tended to pop up in different stories. I'm not always a fan of short stories because I find they end before I'm finished reading about the characters. So, it was nice to have them continue. ( )
  LibraryCin | Oct 16, 2014 |
This is a slim volume of lovely, loosely interconnected short stories about a Jewish immigrants in Toronto in the latter part of the 20th century, seen through the eyes of the family's only son, Mark, who grows from a young boy to a young adult over the course of the stories. The Berman family has moved from Russia to Toronto during the Glasnost period that saw a new wave of Russian Jews fleeing from the old world to the new. The early stories deal with the transition from one culture to the other, while the later ones deal largely but subtly with issues of identity and loss. My two favorite stories were "The Second Strongest Man," which portray, through young Mark's eyes, some stark differences between the family's old existence and their new one, and "Minyan," the volume's final story, which is deals in very human terms the gradual fading of the old world Jewish culture as the generation that had brought that culture to new shores dies out. "The Second Strongest Man," by the way, is the only one of these stories that I recognized as having read before, in some anthology or other somewhere along the line.

Here, from "Minyan," is a sample of Bezmozgis' perfect-pitch writing:

"After the rabbi spoke he asked if there was anyone who wanted to say anything more about Itzik. Herschel, who sat between me and my grandfather, wiped his eyes and looked over at Itzik's son. Itzik's son did not look up from the floor. Nobody moved and the rabbi shifted nervously beside Itzik's coffin. He looked around the room and asked again if there wasn't someone who had a few words to say about Itzik's life. If someone had something to say and sat in silence, they would regret it. Such a time is not the time for shyness. Itzik's spirit was in the room. To speak a kind word about the man would be a mitzvah. Finally, using my knee for support, Hershel raised himself from the pew and slowly made his way to the front of the chapel. Each of Herschel's steps punctuated silence. His worn tweed jacket and crooked back delivered a eulogy before he reached the coffin. His posture was unspeakable grief. What could he say that could compare with the eulogy of his wretched back?" ( )
1 vote rocketjk | Dec 8, 2012 |
This was a good collection of short stories, the author does a good job at highlighting the trials and hardships faced as an immigrant and growing up as a young child. Fairly good writing, but I still felt like it was missing something to make it go from average to fantastic.

I don't think I have a favourite short story, which might be way I didn't love the book. Although, The Second Strongest Man, Tapka and Natasha were all well done and stand out as memorable reads for me. The stories are all interconnected, and it's a collection that is character driven, which sort of focuses on the growth and development of the characters, one in particular, as he grows up, facing the struggles as an immigrant in Toronto. I think one of the most interesting parts of the book, is which stories he recalls and how it influenced is life growing up. It was slow moving collection of short stories, but it focused on the characters and their development, which worked for the book. Not a lot happens, but at the same does, for character growth, a lot does happen - it's just internal. Which is one of the best aspects of this collection, is the authors focus on characterization, and their inner growth and development.

For this particular collection, I enjoyed some of the short stories, others I didn't. It didn't grip me, but I didn't dislike it either, so to sum it up, not a bad read.

Also found on my book review site Jules' Book Reviews - Natasha and Other Stories ( )
  bookwormjules | Nov 24, 2012 |

Natasha, and Other Stories by David Bezmozgis has traveled with me for a long a time. Published in 2004, I'm pretty sure I grabbed the small hardcover off the shelf the first time I saw it. I read it and forgot I'd read it, even listing it as one of the books I own but haven't read.

How could I forget?

Natasha has nearly everything I love: it is a novel in short story form, each story connected to the other but independent; it has a family newly arrived to a place where the possibilities are as limitless as they are unattainable; it has (for the first few stories) an articulate but believable child narrator.

Short stories are, perhaps, the most challenging form of fiction. The author has only a few hundred words (if that) to establish his characters and setting. Bezmozgis solves this challenge skillfully, weaving life's hard lessons into his stories.

My favorite story from the collection is probably "The Second Strongest Man." The narrator, Mark Berman, grew up around body-builders in the USSR because his father was one of the top trainers. His father's top recruit had been Sergei, a former soldier possessing preternatural gifts as a weightlifter. Faced with an impossible bet to life a car, a fellow soldier introduces: "Sergei, show Chaim what's impossible."
For many years after that, with help from Mark's father, Sergei is the strongest man in the world. Until years pass and he's not anymore, no matter how hard he has trained nor how badly he wants to be. What do we live for, once we outlive our dreams?

The stories of Natasha are uniformly stark, even bleak. Happiness is fleeting. Most decisions happen outside the text: Mark's parents decide to bring the family to Toronto; Mark has decided to become a journalist; grandmother has cancer. The progress, too, is a footnote. The moves from apartment to house, any success in school, these are all ancillary details.

What matters, what Bezmozgis focuses us on again and again, is the grind of life punctuated by genuine and reverberating mistakes. ( )
1 vote jscape2000 | Jul 20, 2012 |

“Because who wins if a Jew doesn’t go to synagogue?
I’ll tell you who: Hitler.”
— p. 133

This collection of stories by David Bezmozgis is about a Latvian Jewish family who emigrate to Toronto, Canada. It was a NYT Notable Book in 2004.

Mark is the only child of Roman and Bella Berman. All seven stories in the collection feature Mark in his growing up years. First, I’ll give a brief synopsis of each story and then my thoughts on the collection as a whole.

“Tapka” — It’s 1980 and Mark has been in Canada for 3 weeks. He’s in the first grade and hangs out with his cousin Jana. Some elderly neighbors have a dog that they idolize, and they begin to trust Mark and Jana to take care of it.
“Roman Berman, Massage Therapist” – Mark’s father works at a chocolate factory but is also studying to become qualified as a massage therapist. He hopes an important doctor in the neighborhood will be a source for referrals.
“The Second Strongest Man” — Sergei, a very important person from the Bermans’ past, comes to Canada for a wrestling tournament.
“An Animal to the Memory” — Mark begins to have trouble with his classmates and the principal, particularly on Holocaust Day.
“Natasha” — Mark and Natasha, the daughter of his uncle’s wife, become close friends.
“Choynski” — Mark deals with the deaths of two people who are close to him.
“Minyan” — Mark’s grandfather looks for a place to live.
This is one of the best short story collections I’ve read. All seven stories were unique, but they all fit together nicely to explore Mark’s experiences. Although I thought all of the stories were extremely good, I thought “The Second Strongest Man” and “An Animal to the Memory” were the strongest. If an author can make me interested in a story about wrestling, he is very good indeed. I could really feel the menace, the frustration, and the envy of the characters come through the pages. And in “An Animal to the Memory,” the author’s depiction of Mark’s turmoil as he comes to terms with his Jewish heritage was very well done.

Highly recommended, especially for those with an interest in Jewish, Soviet/Russian, or Canadian literature.

2004, 147 pp.
1 vote 1morechapter | May 24, 2012 |
Showing 1-5 of 15 (next | show all)
Tapka lets them pet her endlessly, she can’t wait to go on walks, she retrieves her toy for them without fail, but none of this is enough. “Proof could only come in one form,” Mark tells us. “We had intuited an elemental truth: love needs no leash.” Thus Bezmozgis opens the door to loss and misery, and he leads us through it with painful realism.
his collection a superb evocation of its time and place, and of people caught between two worlds. By the end it is also, simply, about the human condition.
Despite his brilliance, Bezmozgis suffers by the inevitable comparisons: he is too polite, too restrained, never sufficiently surprising..... But Bezmozgis's prose is unusually assured, and suggests the hype may not be entirely exaggerated.
Most problematically, the book’s overarching progression courts cliché: the young, sensitive artist gradually initiated into adulthood, coming to terms with his identity, with his relation to his cultural group, and with sorrow and death. This has all been done before, many times, if not always so elegantly.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0312423934, Paperback)

David Bezmozgis became an overnight star when he published stories in the holy trinity of American magazines for fiction lovers: The New Yorker, Harper's, and Zoetrope. With the publication of his first book, Natasha, he has been compared to Chekhov and Philip Roth, and the comparison is more than just promotional copy. Natasha follows the experiences of a family of Russian Jews who settle in Toronto and set about reinventing themselves. The loosely connected stories are narrated by the son, Mark, who attempts to understand not only his new world but also his parents. As the book progresses, his growth into the frustrations of adolescence mirrors his family's disappointments as they attempt to escape their old lives in the immigrant ghetto and create new identities. Bezmozgis calls the stories "autobiographical fiction," as they are largely inspired by his own family's past, but make no mistake, these are fully realized works of literature, complete with an attention to language and an eye for detail that invoke the best of minimalist writing. Bezmozgis doesn't reinvent the form here--he sticks to traditional themes such as the search for self and cultural dislocation--but he tells his stories with a grace and quiet sensitivity that's so rare these days it's practically an endangered species.

And there are a couple of literary masterpieces in Natasha. The title story, which relates Mark's sexual experimentation with a cousin by marriage during a summer spent dealing drugs, manages to be both a touching coming-of-age tale and one of the freshest inversions of the suburban dream in years. "The Second Strongest Man," a story of the reunion of Mark's family with a Russian weightlifter, manages to conflate the decline of the Russia with the emptiness of North American life in its tale of aging men whose time has passed them by. Bezmozgis divides his time between Canada and the U.S., but Natasha is international in the scope of its subjects--modern Russia, Toronto's immigrant communities, Judaism, various translations of the American dream. It's the literature of globalization, and Bezmozgis has proven himself to be a global writer. --Peter Darbyshire, Amazon.ca

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:10:35 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

"Natasha is the chronicle of the Bermans, told in stories. 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, 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."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

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