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A Replacement Life: A Novel [Kindle Edition]

Boris Fishman
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (131 customer reviews)

Print List Price: $14.99
Kindle Price: $12.99
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Book Description

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.

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Critic and short story writer Fishman’s first novel concerns the risks and the rewards of fiction, but it isn’t as postmodern as that sounds. Instead, it’s a straight-ahead story about committing fraud for all the right reasons—love, family, and Holocaust restitution. Slava Gelman, lapsed Jew from a former Soviet republic, is a blocked writer who works at Century, a venerable magazine headquartered in Manhattan. Slava’s grandfather, Yevgeny, a notorious fixer and thug with a heart of gold, is always on the take. When it turns out that Slava’s recently deceased grandmother would have been eligible for reparations from the German government, Slava decides to forge the claim, grafting the scanty details of her terrible wartime experiences onto his grandfather’s. Soon, in part because of Slava’s burning desire to write, he is forging dozens of restitution claims. Though saccharinity and righteousness taint this tale, Fishman has talent galore, and an attractive love interest, funny set-pieces, a brochure-beautiful Big Apple, and spectacular, acutely self-conscious prose are all most enjoyable. --Michael Autrey


"The debut novel from Fishman shines with a love for language and craft." ---Publishers Weekly Starred Reviews

Product Details

  • File Size: 664 KB
  • Print Length: 341 pages
  • Publisher: Harper (June 3, 2014)
  • Sold by: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00FJ37CJ0
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #73,672 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
58 of 62 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A lie that tells the truth May 2, 2014
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
When I read the description of A Replacement Life, I thought: Are you kidding? A book about a writer helping Russian Jews falsely claim Holocaust restitution funds? Considering we still have plenty of anti-Semites and Holocaust deniers around, it just seemed like breathtaking--maybe even offensive--chutzpah to write this.

Although this scheme is what moves the plot along, it's secondary to the real subject. The book is really about Slava's complicated love for his grandmother, who has just died. Her experiences when Minsk was overrun by the Nazis would have legitimately qualified her for restitution, Slava's grandfather, Yevgeny says, so why shouldn't you, Mr. Big Shot Writer, write an application for me? Slava has always wanted to be a real writer, and he's not getting anywhere in his job at Century magazine. He uses his best writing to tell his grandmother's story through these affidavits.

When I was little, like most kids I was so self-centered I had barely any curiosity about the pasts of my parents, grandparents and other relatives. That changed when I got older, and I was lucky enough to hear some of their stories. Now that they are gone, though, I wish I'd found out so much more. Same thing with Slava, and with the loss of his grandmother, he realizes her generation won't last much longer. These stories are his way of connecting with them, and of honoring his grandmother and her fellow survivors of World War II and the anti-Semitism of the Soviet Union.

Boris Fishman has the kind of half-drunk love for the English language that you only see in writers for whom English is not their first language. It's a delight to read his flamboyant descriptions, unique associations and colorful depictions of the lives of eastern European immigrants in Brooklyn. These are characters and a side of immigrant America you won't see as a tourist.

4.5 stars
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21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A brilliant human book June 3, 2014
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I love this book. It is funny, smart and deceptively brilliant. Its such a fun read that one begins to forget how brilliantly constructed it is. This writer has talent in making a great novel both deep and entertaining. Top notch.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars "A smaller sin for a big justice" August 10, 2014
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
That's how Slava Gelman ultimately ends up rationalizing what he ends up doing for his grandfather and a cluster of his grandfather's elderly friends in Brooklyn's community of Soviet Jews. They survived the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union -- but in the wrong way, since they ended up fighting as partisans or soldiers, or ending up in exile in places like Uzbekistan, rather than in concentration camps or ghettos. Which means, alas, that they won't be eligible for some attractive new reparations offers from the German government. Unless, that is, Slava's grandfather -- known for his ability to finagle a great deal -- can persuade Slava, a wannabe writer stuck in limbo on the fringes of the staff at one of New York's most prestigious magazines, to use his thwarted talents in an entirely new direction. Perhaps, Yevgeny suggests, he can get a little bit creative with their letters of application. "You're a writer, aren't you?"

Thus begins what Slava knows to be a fraudulent endeavor, and yet it's one that he can't resist -- it brings him back in closer touch with the memory of his grandmother, who DID experience all of these things, but who has just died, as well as to the community from which until now he has tried to distance himself. It is those elements of this novel that brought Slava alive for me as a character: his frustration with his elders, his attempts to build a life as an American, even as his parents are stuck in the past. Fishman is at his best here, pointing out how "a Ukrainian's hate of a Russian was still warmer than his love of an American", and the way in which quitting the Soviet Union for the United States has left them "marooned on a new island except for what their children would do.
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Read this book! June 4, 2014
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I find A Replacment Life to be darkly funny, with wickedly astute observations. Richly drawn characters and fascinating story. Recommended!
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
What an interesting book. In the beginning, I had a slightly difficult time with the sometimes deliberately fractured English, but I got used to the writing as I continued to read the book. Imagine this: the main character, Slava,writes mostly made-up stories for people who want repatrations from the German Govn. because of crimes against Jews during WWll. Of course, these made up stories are what did, in fact, actually happen to some individuals during the war, but not necessarily to the people whom the writer is trying to help. Does Slava get caught? A major theme running through the book is the relationship the writer has to his now-deceased grandmother and his living grandfather. How do we get to know the stories of the departed? Who can tell the real stories of what these people lived through? Does it really matter in the end if the stories happened to this person rather than that person: don't all people who suffered under the Nazis deserve reparations?
Another theme in the book is the immigration story: these immigrants are Russian Jews. Though we have read their stories before, when told to us in this book, their stories take on extra poignancy. You ought not to rush through this book: enjoy the accents, the maneuvers of the people trying to influence Slava. And, don't forget two love stories that run through the book. Plus, Slava's love story with his deceased grandmother is enough to bring tears to the eyes. Enjoy
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
I love it
Published 18 hours ago by judi ortega
3.0 out of 5 stars Three Stars
Hard to be interested in these characters.
Published 20 days ago by Rosalind benjet
5.0 out of 5 stars A look into 'differentness' and the experiences of the children of...
Boris Fishman's memoir is moving and bracingly told, while wrapped in his sense of irony and humor. We enjoyed having him on our tv show, Books du Jour, recently and hope you do,... Read more
Published 23 days ago by Tennis Man
5.0 out of 5 stars Very enjoyable read
I really enjoyed this book. I liked the author's writing style, it's different but enjoyable, and know that I could never write as well in a second language. Read more
Published 1 month ago by A.O.
5.0 out of 5 stars A search for those who we’ve lost, a reaching out to those who will...
Most of all, I think A Replacement Life earns the classification “literary” because at those very moments when so many novels approach real emotion and then flinch away and hide... Read more
Published 1 month ago by M. Lawley
3.0 out of 5 stars Good, not great
The book held my interest. It raised more questions than it answered - especially towards the end.
Published 1 month ago by Beverley Silver
4.0 out of 5 stars A book for New Yorkers and other dreamers
Pretty good read, especially if you love NYC and are intrigued by the way stories heal.
Published 1 month ago by Joan C. Cullinane
4.0 out of 5 stars beautifully written
A Replacement Life is beautifully written. Fishman has an ear for language. The story is also fast moving and important. The characters are well developed and grow. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Amy Nislow
3.0 out of 5 stars Three Stars
Really lovely story about family, passion and the need to tell an untold story.
Published 2 months ago by Maureen LeLaidier
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
An interesting perspective on the immigrant experience
Published 2 months ago by redesigner
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