Review: ‘A Replacement Life’ by Boris Fishman

Fishman’s comic debut novel offers a glimpse of Soviet Brooklyn

This piece first ran in Printers Row Journal, delivered to Printers Row members with the Sunday Chicago Tribune and by digital edition via email. Click here to learn about joining Printers Row.

The star of the show is Slava Gelman, a “junior employee of a midtown magazine,” who does daily battle with his psyche to protect his assimilationist, Upper East Side life from the tidal pull of his first-generation South Brooklyn relatives. “If Slava wanted to become an American, to strip from his writing the pollution that repossessed it every time he returned to the swamp broth of Soviet Brooklyn, … he would have to get away. Dialyze himself, like Grandmother’s kidneys.”

Shortly after we meet Slava, his grandmother dies, triggering his reluctant hero’s journey, via subway, to “the swamp broth.” “Here was a foreign city, if you were coming from Manhattan. … This was still a world in the making. … These American toddlers were only beginning to crawl. Some, however, had already found the big thumb of American largesse.”

Slava is surprised to find his grandparents’ door unlocked. “(I)n this part of Brooklyn, eyes still roamed with Soviet heights of desire.” In the entryway, he suffers the suffocating embrace of an obese home attendant. “Like a Soviet high-rise, each floor of Berta was stuffed beyond capacity.”

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Filed under Holocaust in the news, Literature, Other resources

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