Ivan and Misha (Review & Giveaway)

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Title: Ivan and Misha: Stories
Author: Michael Alenyikov
Pages: 197
Genre: Fiction, Related Short Stories (GLBTQ)
Publisher: TriQuarterly (Northwestern University Press)
Pub. Date: October 30, 2010

Ahhh, what do I say about this... Ivan and Misha in most ways is a gem. It's fantastically written, emotionally provoking. But I almost stopped reading it right into the first story after the prologue. I'm glad I continued, but there were definitely a couple moments that made me uncomfortable.

Ivan and Misha are twin brothers who emigrate from the USSR in the 1980's with their father to New York City. The prologue starts there and then picks back up in their lives in 2000. We read a story from Misha's point of view, one from their father's, one from Ivan, and a seemingly random one from one of Ivan's ex's. And there are a couple other voices interspersed among those stories. The stories jump back and forth in terms of chronology but do so to meet the purpose of being about that specific character and their experiences and emotions. Our characters are dealt with issues of love, culture, AIDS, death, and mental health issues. Overall I enjoyed this book because of the writing. I kept finding passages I loved. The author truly managed to create raw emotion in his writing. I specifically liked the story from the father's point of view. It reminded me of Olive Kitteridge in that he was reflecting on his life from his old age, on his children, etc. Alenyikov also excelled in his depiction of the mania Ivan experienced as part of his Bipolar Disorder.

I want to include some passages I liked, as the writing and the emotions evoked were my favorite thing about this book. The following is the father describing the confrontation when he learns his son, Misha, is gay.
He stood there and took all my words. His face grew red. His arms crossed his chest. The set of his jaw hadn't changed since he was two. When I ran out of words I threw those magazines in his face. Then we stood in silence. I was emptied of feeling. Numb. So bewildered I forgot the cause of my rage. Do you have any idea how terrifying that silence was to me then? It was the silence between a father and son that if not breached can last forever. I know. I did not speak to my father for his last twenty years.
"Papa," he said, calmly, steel in his voice. "If you do not accept me for what I am, I will see you next at your funeral."
We stared at each other. Neither of us gave ground. Time passed. I don't recall if I'd ever stared so long into another man's eyes--and, yes, I could see what I'd been missing for too long: that he was no longer a boy.
Then, I looked away.
And of course I had no choice: accept him or lose him, really quite an easy decision. (p.57)
And another quote from when Misha is talking to his boyfriend who has insecurities related to what his mother thinks of him.
"Yes, your mother is a psychotherapist, and yes, she may be, as you insist, larger than life and so very demanding. But why," Misha had asked, "is this such a problem it cannot be solved? They are people. All people are too much of this, too little of that. What is the big deal, Smitty, if they love you?" (p. 85)
And let me include one more quote that I thought was interesting. (I like the analogy).
Leaning against Ivan's cab, Taz lit a joint. They passed it back and forth, each time leaning in, hips grazing hips, fingers touching, Ivan on fire, looking up at a crescent moon and a scattering of stars in the city's night sky. Ivan doesn't do drugs. Another rule. (The second he's broken this week; it'll take three to know they fall like dominoes.) (p. 126)
Really, there were plenty of other quotes I could have included. For that, and because I felt for the characters, I really enjoyed this book. But let's talk about the taboo part-the part that almost made me put it down. So much of this book is about love in all its forms; sensuality; the psychological complexity of that. But maybe I'm just not psychologically complex enough in my thinking. In the very beginning of the book there were some incestuous undertones and then not too long later there was a moment of incest that disgusted me. And I really don't know what was worse, the act itself or the situation in which it occurred. I just don't get where that came from or why. I moved on anyway because I really liked all its literary merits and the characters otherwise, but something similar crept back in near the end, again really bothering me. And you know, I haven't read much LGBTQ literature specifically, but the problem I have is that for those prejudiced against this population, homosexuality is viewed almost as a sexual disorder. Isn't this what we are trying to teach people that it is certainly NOT?? So then why couple their sexuality with such a taboo (and truly sexually dysfunctional) concept? I truly don't get it, so maybe it's just beyond my reach. But those moments were uncomfortable for me. But then I think about the fact that maybe not all books about LGBTQ characters should have to be teachable moments, but just books about those specific characters and their respective lives regardless of the characters' sexual identity? So anyway, that was the main problem I had with the book and I'd love to hear your thoughts about that!

I also wanted to mention that I may have had my first conscious understanding of unreliable narrators. It's a concept I've seen other bloggers talk about but wasn't sure if I got it. But pretty much all the characters in Ivan and Misha are unreliable!

The publisher/author is offering a giveaway for one signed copy of Ivan and Misha! The giveaway is good for the U.S. and Canada. All you have to do to enter is fill out the form below! Giveaway will run through September 20th.

Follow the rest of the tour!

Wednesday, September 7th: Unabridged Chick
Thursday, September 8th: A Bookish Affair
Monday, September 12th: Lit Endeavors
Tuesday, September 13th: Stuff as Dreams are Made On
Wednesday, September 14th: Literature and a Lens
Thursday, September 15th: The Reading LIfe
Monday, September 19th: Wordsmithonia
Tuesday, September 20th: Regular Rumination
Wednesday, September 21st: Dolce Bellezza
Thursday, September 22nd: Bibrary Bookslut
Friday, September 23rd: Ready When You Are, CB
Monday, September 26th: Col Reads
Tuesday, September 27th: Books Are Like Candy Corn
Wednesday, September 28th: The Book Pirate
Thursday, September 29th: Stella Matutina


Zibilee said...

I can totally see why you might have had some problems with this book and have to say that after having my own experience with incest in literature, I also have complex feelings about it. I do think the other aspects of this book sound wonderful though, and like that it tells a story from several differing points of view. It sounds like this book is a winner in some respects and a loser in others.

Sandy Nawrot said...

I'll be interested to see what others say about this issue. Doesn't seem right at all to combine these two situations, because for those that don't totally understand, will get them confused.

Amy said...

It sounds to me like this book packs quite a punch for it's small size. I am totally intrigued after reading your review. The passages you quoted are wonderful. The incest puzzles me, too, although I have a feeling it occurs much more often than I thought. I was raised in a strict Catholic home and rather sheltered so, even though it's been quite a while sine I've lived at home, some things stick with you I guess.

I'm glad you didn't put this book down, though, since it sounds powerful and rich in imagery and characters.
Thank you :o)

Natalie~Coffee and a Book Chick said...

Wow - this definitely sounds like a lot to absorb. The passages you shared are amazing, and I will definitely keep it on the radar, but yes, some of the items it covers will definitely be uncomfortable to read.

heathertlc said...

You make some very good points regarding sexuality - I can definitely see why you had difficulty with portions of the book.

I'm glad you now "get" the concept of unreliable narrators though! :)

Thanks for being a part of the tour.

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