Tuesday, June 19, 2012

REVIEW: Ivan and Misha, by Michael Alenyikov

Ivan and Misha, by Michael Alenyikov. Published 2010 by Northwestern University Press. Literary Fiction.

Ivan and Misha is a novel composed of interrelated short stories, about two Russian-American men and their father. Ivan and Misha are fraternal twins, born in the Soviet Union, who came to America with their father as small children. Their mother is dead. Now, the brothers are approaching middle age and their father is elderly and dying. Both brothers are gay and Ivan has mental health issues as well. When the book opens, Misha has a live-in lover, Smith, and Ivan is struggling to earn a living as a taxi driver while their father approaches the end of his life along with his friend and neighbor, a fellow ex-Soviet Jew.

Each story is told from the perspective of a different character, so we learn a lot about what each man thinks and how he sees the world. The stories also shuffle back and forth in time so we don't get a straight narrative so much as a series of impressions and scenarios. Characters come in and out of the story, and they don't always say what you expect. There is a mystery around the boys' mother's death, and much uncertainty about their future, but there is also a strong undercurrent of love and loyalty in the family. They might not understand each other, but they will be there for each other no matter what.

The book is also a bit of a love song to New York City; from the moment they arrive, New York is a land of wonders:
And on their first night in New York, Papa said there was only one way to start this new life: in Central Park, seen before only in movies, he rented a horse and buggy. Clippety-cop, clippety-clop, the horse trotted on roads covered with yellow leaves. Wherever he looked Misha saw trees, branches barren of leaves, coated white with snow that fell from a bright gray sky, rose colored along its edges and pierced by unimaginably tall buildings. Once, the horse lost its footing in the leaves and slush and Misha felt his heart clenched as if in a handgrip- now I will wake up from this dream.
The whole book has this dream-like, lyrical feel, driven by the characters and their feelings more than plot per se. Highly recommended for readers of literary fiction, Jewish fiction, LGBT fiction and any fiction, it's a wonderful, moving and emotional story about brothers and fathers, love and family, alienation and belonging.

Rating: BUY

FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review I won it in a giveaway from Dolce Bellezza.


bermudaonion said...

It sounds like there's a lot going on in this book but that it's written well so it works. I'm adding it to my wish list.

JoAnn said...

I'm intrigued... off to investigate further.

Bellezza said...

Marie, I'm so thrilled you liked it as much as I did. Your last paragraph in particular is spot on for how I felt: "dream-like, lyrical feel, driven by the characters and their feelings more than plot per se." And even though one's sexuality is a theme here, I didn't get bogged down it as I did with Irving's In One Person. I agree that this is a beautiful literary work perfect for any reader.