I am almost getting to the point now where the information that a book is a “novel in stories” makes me cringe. There are times when it is done wonderfully and beautifully, like Olive Kitteridge and there are times when it fails, at least in my mind, like Great House by Nicole Krauss. But when Lisa of TLC Book Tours approached me about reviewing this book, something didn’t make me cringe. Something made me accept it. It could have been Lisa describing my reading tastes as “eccentric” (a high compliment if you ask me) and telling me that this book would fit right in. She was right. I really enjoyed Ivan & Misha, I thought that the connected short stories tactic was done brilliantly.
The short stories themselves are told in different styles, with different narrators. They are not sequential and the story is filled in in bits and pieces. Ivan & Misha are fraternal twins, opposites in every way. Misha is gay and Ivan is beyond defining in one word. The best way to describe Ivan is in love. With himself, with his brother, with his lovers regardless of gender, and most of all, with the world. They immigrated to the United States when they were young boys after the death of their mother.
Their story is complex, but Alenyikov tells it will a brilliant fluidity, moving from past to present and everywhere in between without tripping up himself or the reader. The prose is lyrical and beautiful; there are entire pages that I wouldn’t mind quoting. Each character is so complete and it amazes me how short this novel is. There was so much contained within its pages, in my memory it must be longer.
There is one scene that will disturb some people. In a way, putting it at the beginning of the novel is Alenyikov’s biggest risk and perhaps it is the defining moment of the novel. The one that the entire novel is working to explain how a relationship between two siblings could become so confusing, so complex. But whether you agree with his decision or not, the relationship between Ivan and Misha is one that deserves an entire novel to explore the complexity of being between two cultures, between defining moments in your life, between life and death.
Thank you to TLC Book Tours for sending me this book to review. I apologize for having the review up a day late – I have been feeling a bit under the weather and ended up falling asleep last night before I could post it.