Wow! What a way to end my 2017 reading challenge on a complete high.
“What was the point of talking about it? You lived as you lived while you lived. Today he was drinking tea and watching checkers, why ruin a nice afternoon worrying about tomorrow?”
I was on the search to find a collection full of interlinked short stories to read, when I came across this recommendation video talking about Natasha. Suffice to say, I’m beyond thankful.
Told through Mark’s eyes, and spanning the last twenty-three years, Natasha brings the Bermans and the Russian-Jewish enclaves of Toronto to life in stories full of big, desperate, utterly believable consequence.
Natasha and Other Stories Everything is at once new and familiar, from the Russian-Jewish references to the nuances put on certain sayings and jokes. For example, Sergei being nicknamed ‘Seryozha’ is such a tiny detail but captures exactly the kind of things that have slipped my mind with time. I mean, if I ever feel the need to revisit my childhood, I can just open up this book to any story and feel the nostalgia surging in.
These two quotes get what I’m trying to convey: “He was energized by the proximity to his former life.” & “…I watched a scene I recognized as familiar only once I saw it.”
It’s such an exhilarating experience to read the first page of a book and come to realize right off the bat that this one is something made especially for you. It’s a rare occurrence nowadays for me, so I’ve learned to cherish the reading experience as I go.
Frankly, I was really in my element with this read, and it was emphasised by combining my favorite aspects from coming-of-age tales to capturing the complexity of Jewish families to including subtle humor. I’ve never felt as heard and seen as when I read Natasha and Other Stories by David Bezmozgis.
My favorite stories include:
- The Second Strongest Man which follows Mark’s childhood adoration for Sergei Federenko.
“There wasn’t much I remembered from Riga—isolated episode, little more than vignettes, mental artifacts—but many of these recollections involved Sergei.”
“When Sergei visited I was spastic with a compulsion to please him. I shadowed him around the apartment, I swung from his biceps like a monkey, I did somersaults on the carpet. The only way I could be convinced to go to sleep was if Sergei followed my mother into my bedroom. We developed a routine. Once I was under the covers Sergei said good night by lifting me and my little bed off the floor. He lifted the bed as if it weighed no more than a newspaper or a sandwich. He raised me to his chest and wouldn’t put me back down until I named the world’s strongest man.
—Seryozha, Seryozha Federenko!”
- An Animal to the Memory set around Mark’s Hebrew school with the focus being on his misbehaving on Holocaust Remembrance Day. It leads to a particular fascinating scene between him and his Rabbi that I can’t stop spinning around in my head.
“Now, Berman, he said, now maybe you understand what it is to be a Jew.”
- The collection hit a bit of a rough patch for me with the titular story and the following one, but thankfully redeemed itself with this final story “Minyan,” set around Mark’s grandfather and the familiar old Jewish folks surrounding him in his subsidised apartment complex.
“The change of locale hadn’t done much to improve his social situation. For every reason to leave his apartment he could always find ten to stay where he was.”
I came to cherish more so the tales that delved into backstories and family lineage, rather than the stories that focused on whatever Natasha & Choynski tried to be.
But I think it goes without saying that I’m interested to go look into any and every book the author has to offer.