A singularly talented writer makes his literary debut with this provocative, soulful, and sometimes hilarious story of a failed journalist asked to do the unthinkable: Forge Holocaust-restitution claims for old Russian Jews in Brooklyn, New York.
Yevgeny Gelman, grandfather of Slava Gelman, “didn’t suffer in the exact way” he needs to have suffered to qualify for the restitution the German government has been paying out to Holocaust survivors. But suffer he has–as a Jew in the war; as a second-class citizen in the USSR; as an immigrant to America. So? Isn’t his grandson a “writer”?
High-minded Slava wants to put all this immigrant scraping behind him. Only the American Dream is not panning out for him–Century, the legendary magazine where he works as a researcher, wants nothing greater from him. Slava wants to be a correct, blameless American–but he wants to be a lionized writer even more.
Slava’s turn as the Forger of South Brooklyn teaches him that not every fact is the truth, and not every lie a falsehood. It takes more than law-abiding to become an American; it takes the same self-reinvention in which his people excel. Intoxicated and unmoored by his inventions, Slava risks exposure. Cornered, he commits an irrevocable act that finally grants him a sense of home in America, but not before collecting a price from his family.
A Replacement Life is a dark, moving, and beautifully written novel about family, honor, and justice.
I discovered two important items while reading this book: 1-Boris Fishman is an extremely gifted writer. 2-I am not a fan of dark comedy.
Fishman is on par with Gary Shteyngart. Both create energetic and diverse characters. Blending humor with serious subject matter isn’t easy, yet these two authors have no issues in making the task a success.
Fishman’s debut is character driven. He assembled quite a vibrant and exciting cast from varying circumstances. The protagonists range from cantankerous, privileged to sage souls. The immigrant factor adds to the characters as well as the plot.
Fishman’s writing feels as if it’s animated, vigorous and at times a stream of consciousness. His writing lends texture and dimension. Humor seems to be his forte, there were times I laughed out loud, completely caught off guard. At times his writing was downright emotional revealing his ability to switch gears at a moments notice.
Slava is a character that is all over the place and this detail endears him to the reader. No matter how flawed Slava is somehow Fishman convinces the reader to look past and find a soft spot for this questionable man and you do. Full of sarcasm, this novel clearly points out life’s amusing moments.
I enjoyed Fishman’s writing despite dark comedy failing to align with my taste. I will read his next novel to satiate my curiosity in seeing if he has ventured out or plans on clinging to dark comedy. Wonderful debut effort, clearly an author with literary talent. A story posing a few question both trivial and serious, addressing family, honor and justice.
About the author:
Boris Fishman was born in Minsk, in the former Soviet Union, in 1979, and emigrated to the United States in 1988. His journalism, essays, and criticism have appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine and Book Review, The New Republic, The Nation, Harper’s, Vogue, The London Review of Books, The Wall Street Journal and other publications (see Selected Journalism).
Boris received a degree in Russian literature from Princeton University. Afterward, he was on the editorial staff of The New Yorker; edited “Wild East: Stories from the Last Frontier” (Random House), a collection of short stories about the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe in the early post-Communist years; received a Fulbright research grant to Istanbul, Turkey; and co-wrote and edited the U. S. Senate’s report on Hurricane Katrina.
Boris received his MFA in fiction from New York University, where he was a New York Times Foundation Fellow. Since then, he has received residencies and fellowships from the New York Foundation of the Arts; the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, Mass.; Mesa Refuge and Djerassi Resident Artist Program in northern California; the Edward Albee Foundation in Montauk; the Wildacres Retreat in North Carolina; the Blue Mountain Center in the Adirondacks; and the Brush Creek Foundation for the Arts in Wyoming, among others. To support his writing, Boris has worked as a hiking guide, a farm laborer, a market researcher for a maker of “temporary concrete,” an editor, a fact-checker, and the editorial director of a tech start-up.
A Replacement Life, out from HarperCollins on June 3, 2014 and a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers pick, is his first novel. He is now finishing his next, Don’t Let My Baby Do Rodeo, about a New Jersey couple that adopts a boy from Montana who turns out to be wild. Other projects include The Church Is Near, But the Way There Is Icy; The Tavern Is Far, But I’ll Walk Carefully: 101 Recipes from Oksana’s Kitchen, an unusual Ukrainian cookbook, and Finding Mr. Harrison, a memoir of his alpha grandfather and decidedly non-alpha father, and seeking out the American writer whose books helped him make sense of their crossfire.
Join the Tour!
Here’s the tour schedule:
Tuesday, June 3rd: Jenn’s Bookshelves
Wednesday, June 4th: Under a Gray Sky
Thursday, June 5th: Bibliosue
Monday, June 9th: nightlyreading
Tuesday, June 10th: Love at First Book
Wednesday, June 11th: Bibliophiliac
Thursday, June 12th: Conceptual Reception
Monday, June 16th: Svetlana’s Reads and Views
Tuesday, June 17th: Book-alicious Mama
Wednesday, June 18th: What She Read …
Thursday, June 19th: Books Speak Volumes
Monday, June 23rd: Man of La Book
Tuesday, June 24th: Book on the Table
Wednesday, June 25th: The Year in Books
Thursday, June 26th: Must Read Faster
Monday, June 30th: Giraffe Days