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Natasha: And Other Stories (2004)

by David Bezmozgis

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4441743,980 (3.8)54
A collection of stories about Soviet Jewish immigrants to Canada. Sad but comic, Bezmozgis writes with compassion about the pains and joys of immigration.

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» See also 54 mentions

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Showing 1-5 of 16 (next | show all)
This book was the winner of several literary prizes and on the shortlist for many more. I was swept away by these stories of the Latvian Jewish immigrant experience. Watch this young man. ( )
  ParadisePorch | Dec 21, 2020 |
Natasha and Other Stories is comprised of seven short stories. I read "Tapka" and title story, "Natasha." The interesting thing about all seven stories is that they all center around one family, the Bermans. "Tapka" and "Natasha" center on Mark, the son.

Six year old Mark Berman falls in love with Tapka, his neighbor's tiny white Lhasa-apso, at first sight. He cares for this animal so deeply he and his cousin are bestowed care taking duties of Tapka. Until tragedy strikes.Best line, "With no English, no money, no job, and only a murky conception of what the future held, he wasn't equipped to admire Tapka on the Italian Riviera" (p 5).

Ten years later, sixteen year old Mark develops feelings for his fourteen year old cousin, Natasha. She is wise beyond her years; much wiser than Mark. She teaches him a thing or two about coming of age.
Best line, "She was calibrated somewhere between resignation and joy" (p 90). ( )
  SeriousGrace | Jun 15, 2016 |
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 |

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 |
Showing 1-5 of 16 (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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A collection of stories about Soviet Jewish immigrants to Canada. Sad but comic, Bezmozgis writes with compassion about the pains and joys of immigration.

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