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Natasha: And Other Stories Hardcover – June 9, 2004

4.2 out of 5 stars 44 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

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

From Publishers Weekly

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.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 147 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 1st edition (June 9, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374281416
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374281410
  • Product Dimensions: 5.7 x 0.7 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (44 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,208,527 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Jon Linden VINE VOICE on August 8, 2004
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
In David Bezmozgis' book "Natasha and other stories" I expected to find a well written collection of short stories on different topics. But what I found had much more impact. With a style that won't let the reader go, the author moves through the life of Mark Berman, a Russian Immigrant to Canada in 1980. The stories are extremely autobiographical in character, although the author never states that outright.

Each story, in addition to being on a different topic, follows Mark through the ages of 6 to 16, and then two adult experience based stories after the title story "Natasha." The book is extraordinary in its ability to capture immense and incisive amounts of sensitive information about the characters, and convey it in an almost irresistable style, as he ambles through the very complex integration of a 6 year old Russian immigrant to the democratic environment of Canada and North America in general.

"Natasha," the title story really does capture the reader, as it is so illustrative of what we enjoy in North America, and how truly undesirable or worse it is to live in some parts of the world, but so many live in conditions that we in North America just take for granted. We need to be reminded of what we have, rather than what we do not have all the time. This book does an acutely prestigous job of elucidating this concept.

As the author's first book, it appears to be a great one. This author shows tremendous promise, and did something unique, and yet familiar. He used his own experiences, to write his first book, but he created a piece with a new character, than almost any other book of short stories I have previously read. However he did it, this book is not to be missed. It is truly worth anyone's time to invest in reading this fast reading and intimate yet important piece of literature.
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Format: Paperback
I read this book for a sort of a side-by-side with Lara Vapnyar's There Are Jews at My House. Bezmozgis profits from a mostly-American (Canadian) upbringing--which reflects both in his experiences and style. Stylistically, the stories are fairly onventional, not paving any new ground (there are some hints of a Joyceian progression at the beginning of the story, with a child narrator).

Natasha is a chronological collection of stories about the Berman family through the eyes of Mark, its young protagonist and narrator. Bezmozgis manages to provide a digest familiar to most Soviet--and especially Jewish--immigrants. The stories capture the most common struggles of immigration: coming to grips with loneliness; salvaging your pride after shedding a lifetime of hard work, achievement, and standing behind; as well as some patently American experiences--such as a sexual and hallucinogenic coming of age in the suburbs.

Some of the stories address old age and the Holocaust, but the author mostly veers away from trite sentimentality. Natasha is not a perfect book about Soviet immigrants: despite threading his stories, Bezmozgis' saga feels somewhat unfocused in parts. There is not enough intimacy between author and reader. While there is a sprinkling of humor, it is also sometimes lacking. I was not surprised to find out that Bezmozgis is primarily a filmmaker. His stories could probably be adapted for plays and screenplays. In the meantime, he shows literary promise as well.
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Format: Hardcover
This is a brilliant piece of work. All of the stories in Natasha and Other Stories are connected and narrated by the son of a Russian-Jewish family from 1970s Toronto. The stories of their struggles with wanting a new life. The language is sharp and evocative -- the descriptions vivid and beautiful. And the stories are thought provoking and poignant. My favorite stories are "The Strongest Man" and "Minyan." Reading about this family gave me the impression that David Bezmozgi was writing about his own experiences. It doesn't matter, for this is a brilliant short-story collection that I read in one sitting. I wish I had taken longer to read it and savored the experience. Natasha is going to my re-read pile. I cannot recommend this book enough...
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Format: Hardcover
David Bezmozgis astutely describes the immigrant experience in this book of short stories linked through the same characters.
The author's personal experiences, which parallel those of his characters, enable him to descriptively write scenes which come alive and appear real. As a Toronto secondary school teacher who has worked with Russian immigrant students, I recognize realistic scenarios in his stories and feel he has accurately portrayed the lives of these immigrants.
A thoroughly enjoyable read!
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Format: Paperback
In these interconnected short stories about Soviet Jewish immigrants in Toronto in the 1980s, Bezmozgis is perhaps less cynical than the early Philip Roth and more measured than Lenny Bruce, both of them raconteurs of the Jewish experience to whom he has been compared. His recollections of his experience (if that is what they are) are precisely delineated, and his characters -- especially the mother and father, trying to make their way in an alien society -- ring true. The title story is the most memorable. It evokes the seamier side of '80s suburban life and of '80s life in Russia in the downfall of an empire. I highly recommend this collection. Its literary prizes are well deserved.
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