Bezmozgis, David 1973-
Bezmozgis, David 1973-
PERSONAL: Born 1973, in Riga, Latvia; immigrated to Toronto, Ontario, Canada, 1980. Education: McGill University, B.A. (English) and University of Southern California, M.F.A. (film).
ADDRESSES: Agent—c/o Author Mail, Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 19 Union Square West, New York, NY 10003.
CAREER: Writer and documentary filmmaker. Director of documentary film L.A. Mohel.
Natasha and Other Stories, Farrar, Straus & Giroux (New York NY), 2004.
Contributor of short fiction to periodicals, including Zoetrope, Harper's, and New Yorker.
WORK IN PROGRESS: A novel.
SIDELIGHTS: David Bezmozgis immigrated with his parents from Latvia to Toronto, Ontario, Canada, when he was six years old. The narrator of the seven tales that make up Bezmozgis's Natasha and Other Stories is of similar age and circumstances, and his life is revealed in a collection of narratives called "dazzling, hilarious and hugely compassionate" by People contributor Francine Prose.
On the Atlantic Unbound Adam Baer wrote: "here is the kind of poised and elegant storytelling that announces an already mature talent. The stories in Bezmozgis's collection are idiosyncratic, emotionally rich, and, for all of their ethnic flavor, accessible. They are all told from the perspective of Mark Berman, a sensitive smart aleck who immigrated with his family to the West in 1980. And like the best 'outsider' fiction, they universalize a personal cultural experience, taking on topics like ethnic identity, family conflicts in a new land, and the challenges of assimilation."
Bezmozgis's title story tells of the young Jewish boy's sexual awakening, compliments of Natasha, a fourteen year old newly arrived from Russia. In "Tapka," because of his poor English, first-grader Mark puts the life of a neighbor's dog at risk. The remainder of the book follows the narrator as he grows into adulthood, from his stoner days at age sixteen, when he sells drugs during the summer, to his feelings regarding the decline of his elderly grandparents. In many ways, these pieces are about Mark's experiences as a Jewish immigrant; in others they represent the universal coming-of-age story. Brendan Bernhard noted on the L.A. Weekly Online that at age sixteen, Mark "bears only a fleeting resemblance to the six-year-old boy we were introduced to in the opening story, or even the twelve-year-old in the third story…. By presenting us with snapshots of Mark's development … Bezmozgis makes us newly aware of just how mysterious and seemingly random character formation can be."
Much of Natasha and Other Stories reflects on the North American Jewish identity, as expressed in "An Animal to the Memory," which places the Holocaust at the center of the examination. The experiences of Mark's parents when they seek financial assistance from helpful but condescending Canadian Jews is reflected in "Roman Berman, Massage Therapist." Mark's father, who in Latvia was an athletics instructor, witnesses a weightlifting competition in "The Second Strongest Man," wherein the top Russian he had once trained is beaten by a younger man.
Mark accompanies his grandfather to the synagogue in "Minyan," in which he observes that, while "most of the old Jews came because they were drawn by the nostalgia for ancient cadences, I came because I was drawn by the nostalgia for old Jews," a statement that reflects his longing for tradition. Library Journal reviewer Tania Barnes felt that "taken alone, these stories are charming and pitch-perfect; together, they add up to something like life itself: funny, heartbreaking, terrible, true." A Publishers Weekly contributor wrote that "these complex, evocative stories herald the arrival of a significant new voice."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, April 1, 2004, Donna Seaman, review of Natasha and Other Stories, p. 1345.
Entertainment Weekly, June 4, 2004, Jennifer Reese, review of Natasha and Other Stories, p. 87.
Kirkus Reviews, April 1, 2004, review of Natasha and Other Stories, p. 284.
Library Journal, March 15, 2004, Tania Barnes, review of Natasha and Other Stories, p. 109.
People, July 12, 2004, Francine Prose, review of Natasha and Other Stories, p. 46.
Publishers Weekly, April 19, 2004, review of Natasha and Other Stories, p. 36.
Atlantic Unbound, http://www.theatlantic.com/ (June 3, 2004), Adam Baer, review of Natasha and Other Stories and interview with Bezmozgis.
L.A. Weekly Online, http://www.laweekly.com/ (May 28-June 3, 2004), Brendan Bernhard, review of Natasha and Other Stories.