Natasha and Other Stories
Naomi Brun is a freelance writer and a book reviewer for The Hamilton
In 2004, David Bezmozgis blazed onto the international literary scene
with his series of seven interrelated short stories. Reading much like a
novel, the critically acclaimed stories chronicled the coming of age of
a Russian Jew who moved to Toronto with his family.
Mark Berman, the protagonist and narrator, is loosely based on
Bezmozgis himself. The author of Natasha and Other Stories emigrated
from Latvia when he was seven and grew up in Toronto, where he still
Bezmozgis writes in a highly intimate voice, allowing readers an open
window into Mark’s soul. We experience failure when six-year-old Mark
innocently betrays a neighbour’s trust; fear when, a few years later,
he catches a glimpse of what life would have been like in the old
country; shame and rage when, at Hebrew School, he learns what it means
to be a Jew.
When Mark grows older, he relearns all those boyhood lessons in new
contexts. That betrayal lesson takes on the shape of a sexually charged
14-year-old girl, questions of history become more pressing as aging
friends and relatives pass away, and his Jewish identity becomes more
complex when he helps his grandfather change apartments.
Bezmozgis relates Mark’s experiences and emotions in a deceptively
simple way. First-person narratives are often compelling, but it takes a
great deal of art to transform such straightforward thought and language
into masterpiece. Bezmozgis has done just that, and received praise for
his efforts. In fact, Natasha and Other Stories was nominated for
several literary prizes.
Although the themes of the book will be especially appealing to young
Jewish immigrants, the engaging, candid prose will draw readers of many
backgrounds to Natasha and Other Stories. It is, undeniably, an