Monday, June 16, 2014

G343 Book Review of A Replacement Life by Boris Fishman

Name of Book: A Replacement Life

Author: Boris Fishman

ISBN: 978-0-06-228787-8

Publisher: Harper

Type of book: New York, 2006, reparations, victim, Russian-Jewish culture, adopted culture vs native culture, love triangle, choices, lying

Year it was published: 2014


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.


For some odd reason, I really liked the character of Yevgeny Gelman, Slava's enterprising grandfather as well as the one who has no compunction in lying and sneaking around when it comes to anything, and wish I could have seen him and the grandmother a whole lot more. (I guess also the fact that my grandmother's name, G-d rest her soul, was also Yevgeny, in Russian the name is unisex. and Sofia was the name of my great-grandmother on my mom's side.) Unfortunately for me, I didn't like Slava much, if at all. Slava is willing to do whatever he can in getting rid of his past one way or the other, (at this point I'm surprised that he didn't Americanize his name.) My personality and beliefs really clashed with Slava's, which is probably the reason I couldn't stand him, and I fear going into a novel mode in mentioning how I clash with Slava. Suffice to say, I don't agree with trying to get rid of your native culture, and instead I feel one should hold on to it. But I guess there is a difference in arriving here at eight years old in Dallas Texas and suffering through English as well as being unable to relate to anyone at all and arriving at eleven years of age in New York where everyone around you never lets you forget your culture.


Nothing is straightforward


I've read a page or two to my friend Jennifer over the phone and instantly she pointed out the writing style to me. The writing style is very awkwardly written and is best described as cloying and stiff. And if this is supposed to be a comedy, I didn't see how its comedic? I didn't laugh at all when I read the book, but instead a lot of the writing hit way too close to home. Also, Chapter 11 has a mistake: I think the author has meant the year 2006 and not 2012. The book itself is in third person narrative completely from Slava's point of view. I also felt that the story was disjointed and didn't seem to flow smoothly. When it comes to narrative in this book, its like trying to recreate a mosaic during the Byzantium Era.

Author Information:
(From TLC)

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Photo credit Rob Liguori
Photo credit Rob Liguori
About Boris Fishman
Boris Fishman was born in Belarus and immigrated to the United States at the age of nine. He is the editor of Wild East: Stories from the Last Frontier, and his work has appeared in the New Yorker, the New York Times Magazine, the New Republic, the Wall Street Journal, the London Review of Books, and other publications. He lives in New York City. A Replacement Life is his first novel.
Find out more about Boris at his website, and connect with him on Facebook or Twitter.


I've heard or read somewhere that the creator of a story or art hopes for two responses: anger and adoration. Why those two? Adoration is the obvious choice because if you love something then you're more likely to help spread love around. Anger isn't an obvious choice, but anger will help the audience remember masterpiece as well, and sometimes when a person rants about a book or art, the audience becomes curious as to why the person is angry and then they go and see it for themselves. The author has caused me to remember this piece of work, but its not filled with memories of adoration, but anger in fact. This is a story and book I should have fallen in love with, for my background is similar, and many times I knew what the author was writing about: I came from Russia in 1994 at eight and a half years of age. But still, its amazing how our paths diverged. I disagreed a lot with what Slava is thinking and has done. Many times I wanted to shake him and tell him to be proud of who he is and that he should embrace that aspect of himself instead of trying to get rid of it. Also as well, the author doesn't really explain certain aspects of Russian culture, such as about the famous movie titled S Leghkim Parom (What Russians say after a bath or a shower,) about the terms of endearment and food and superstitions. Culture-wise, the book is very accurate to my knowledge, but for those that are curious about Russian culture and are seeking explanations and so forth, then this book doesn't really measure up. Also, how lovely to see that immigrant girls who stick to their culture are portrayed as single with no prospects of being with someone. Despite my rating, this is a good book to have discussion over the meaning and definition of the word victim: can a victim be someone who lost their livelihoods but didn't suffer through Concentration Camps?

This is for TLC Book Tour

Boris’ Tour Stops

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
2 out of 5
(0: Stay away unless a masochist 1: Good for insomnia 2: Horrible but readable; 3: Readable and quickly forgettable, 4: Good, enjoyable 5: Buy it, keep it and never let it go.)

1 comment:

  1. Wow, it sounds like this book would be great for a book club, especially if someone had the same reaction to it that you did. Thanks for your thoughtful review for the tour!


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