A review of

Natasha

by David Bezmozgis

Central question: How does a Soviet-era Latvian Jewish immigrant family carve out a home in 1980s suburban Toronto?
Format: 147 pp., hardcover; Size: 5-1⁄2” x 8-1⁄4”; Publisher: Farrar, Straus & Giroux; Run: 40,000; Price: $18; Editor: Lorin Stein; Agent: Ira Silverberg; Book designer: Abby Kagan; Jacket designer: Dean Nicastro; Years spent in the writing: 3; Nickname for closet in which first two stories were written: “The Cloffice”; Text typeface: Adobe Garamond; Author name pronounced: “Bezz-mow-giss”; Representative sentence: “I felt such overwhelming love for Tapka that sometimes, when hugging her, I had to restrain myself from squeezing too hard and crushing her little bones.”

Natasha may be David Bezmozgis’ literary debut, but the author is no novice to storytelling. A graduate of USC Film School, he has made films about mohels in Los Angeles, law students in Toronto, and a boy who tries to rid himself of his enormous and magically indestructible nose.

Now, in these seven linked stories, Bezmozgis has focused his attention upon the Bermans, a family of Latvian-Jewish émigrés living in Toronto in the 1980s. Mark, our narrator, is seven years old when he comes to Toronto, so this is a somewhat unconventional immigration narrative; instead of describing a longing for the way things were, Bezmozgis delivers a child’s acute perception of the way things are. In the opening story, “Tapka,” Mark and his young cousin Jana have been entrusted with the responsibility of caring for their Russian neighbors’ beloved dog. Tapka is her owners’ sole link to Russia, the only thing in their lives that isn’t new. Mark and Jana quickly become smitten with the dog, and, like most lovers, they look for signs that their love is requited. 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.

We hope you enjoy this excerpt.

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—Julie Orringer

Julie Orringer is the author of How to Breathe Underwater. She lives in San Francisco, teaches fiction writing at Stanford University, and is currently working on a novel set in Paris and Budapest in the late 1930s.

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