Boris Fishman: A Replacement Life
When I read the description of A Replacement Life, I thought: Are you kidding? A book about a writer helping Russian Jews falsely claim Holocaust restitution funds? Considering we still have plenty of anti-Semites and Holocaust deniers around, it just seemed like breathtaking––maybe even offensive––chutzpah to write this.
But although this scheme is what moves the plot along, it's secondary to the real subject. The book is really about Slava's complicated love for his grandmother, who has just died. Slava has always wanted to be a writer, but he's not getting anywhere in his job at Century magazine. He uses his best writing to tell her story through these affidavits.
When I was little, like most kids I was so self-centered I had barely any curiosity about the pasts of my parents, grandparents and other relatives. That changed when I got older, and I was lucky enough to hear some of their stories. Now that they are gone, though, I wish I'd found out so much more. Same thing with Slava, and with the loss of his grandmother, he realizes her generation won't last much longer. These stories are his way of connecting with them, and honoring his grandmother and her fellow survivors of World War II and the anti-Semitism of the Soviet Union.
Boris Fishman has the kind of half-drunk love for the English language that you only see in writers for whom English is not their first language. It's a delight to read his flamboyant descriptions, unique associations and colorful depictions of the lives of eastern European immigrants in Brooklyn. These are characters and a side of immigrant America you won't see as a tourist.
Thanks to the publisher, HarperCollins, and Amazon's Vine program for providing an advance review copy.