David Bezmozgis’s debut story collection Natasha will not leave you–not while you are reading it and not soon after you finish. In fact, it may stay with you always–it is memory.
These stories, carry us through the lives of Roman, Bella and their son Mark, who are strangers in a strange land–Russian Jews (but not Refusniks, which we learn would have given them more cache with a rich doctor and his friends) now living in Toronto. Each story brings you a little deeper in the intricate lives of these people, the delicate balance they maintain–what it means to belong, to not belong. To be other.
I loved all of these stories but my favorite was “Choynski” which juxtaposes the death of the narrator’s dearly beloved grandmother with the death of Charley Davis, a random acquaintance. The end of this story is so haunting that I shall never forget it. In the end, it is about love–embedded, vestigal, not to be lost. A feeling of love that is as true as bone, as true as the country where we are born and from where we are departed–grief, as blinding as a blizzard, for all things lost and all things kept to remind:
It was only later, that night, when I was on my hands and knees in the cemetery seraching for her dentures in two feet of snow, that I wailed in Russian: Babushka, babushka, g’dye tih, maya babushka? Babushka, babushka, where are you, my babushk? I cried shamelessly, up to my elbows in the snow, looking for the new teeth which they had forgotten to bury with her. Bearing the dentures I had driven out into the worst blizzard since 1944 with neither a flashlight or a shovel. I had gone to the cemetery even though my mother had forbidden it and even though Jewish law dictated that nobody was permitted at the grave for a month. But I felt that I was following other laws. And so I dug–first with purpose, then with panic. My hands burned and then went numb. Snow soaked through my shoes and pants. By the end, I didn’t even want to bury the teeth anymore, I just wanted not to lose them.
edited: adding a link to Jordan’s interview with David Bezmozgis–thanks, J!