Monday, September 26, 2011

TLC Book Tour Review: Michael Alenyikov’s Ivan and Misha

Michael Alenyikov’s Ivan and Misha is a novel told in short stories, each from a different perspective, knit loosely to form a tale of family and lies and loss. The stories are joined by the fraternal twins of the title, Russian immigrants living in New York City. The book is raw and intense, and the writing is beautiful and sparse, which makes the disjointed narrative feel more like a series of conversations you’re having, slowly revealing the realities of Ivan and Misha’s lives, as well as that of their adoring father, Louie.

The first story, from which the novel takes its name, is from Misha’s first-person perspective. He is the blond-haired apple of his father’s eye, an aspiring novelist who works as a gofer for a film crew. His boyfriend is Smith, a young and haunted man from Michigan. But the real love of his life is his small and troubled family: Ivan, who suffers from manic depression and Louie, whose health is failing following a stroke.

The picture of Ivan and Misha seems complete until we get to the next story, “Barrel of Laughs,” which is narrated by Louie, and fills in details even the boys don’t know. Later, “It Takes All Kinds” redraws Ivan and Misha from Smith’s perspective. And we think we understand Ivan until the focus shifts to him in “Whirling Dervish,” and we see the pain of living on the edge of sanity:

But here, now, this world, this New York, America, did hold together. It was a mystery to Ivan, whose thoughts might begin to race, spin out of control, at any time. He’s a whirling dervish who in some past frenzy had likely spun off pieces of himself that comprised those rings of Saturn’s and who now craved the embrace of Taz, who never hurried, who read him poems, who quieted Ivan’s mind and soul with the touch of his voice. p. 152

And so it goes, every story adding to our understanding of the twins.

I enjoyed the raw emotion of this book. But I was glad for the short story format, which gave me a chance to pause and think about what I'd read -- it really was pretty heavy in places. Alenyikov writes with insight, even when describing the most painful, intimate details of the twins’ lives. It's not a total downer, however -- there's some dark Russian humor as well, from Louie’s little white lies to Misha’s acceptance of Ivan’s grandiose schemes. I have to note that the book is very direct in its sexual content. Still, I never felt that it was gratuitous. I’d say this book is worth seeking out for the power and vividness of Alenyikov’s writing. He’s definitely an author I would seek out.

I read this book as part of a TLC book tour, and received a free copy of the book in return for my honest opinion . I hope you’ll look at some of the other reviews here:

Tuesday, September 6th: Take Me Away
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

This book counts for the LGBT Book Challenge. And the Immigrant Stories Challenge. And I think I can count it for the Eastern European Reading Challenge as well. Yeah! I'm so glad to get back on track after a big, semester induced drought! Thanks to Natazz, Colleen and Amy for hosting!


  1. It sounds a bit heavy to me, too. I don't mind that, but only when I'm in the mood. Sometimes I'm too impatient. :-)

  2. Because of the subject matter, there is a pretty heavy discussion of AIDS that runs throughout the book. But in the right mood, I think you'd like Alenyikov's writing style.

  3. Many thanks for taking time to read "Ivan and Misha"and for your thoughtful comments. 'best, michael alenyikov

  4. The short story format has been working more for me these days. I love immigrant stories, so I'll have to check this one out.

  5. Mr. Alenyikov -- I wish you the best of luck with "Ivan and Misha," and look forward to reading more of your work!

  6. Kathy -- It really is a very good immigrant story, and very unique in so many ways. The writing is very impressive!

  7. May I compliment you for your reading challenge efficiency? This strikes me as something like using a Q in Scrabble.

  8. I, too, liked how the short stories connected to give me a more complete view of the twins and their lives. I was expecting more about Russia, and less about homosexual brothers, but I was not disappointed in the author's tremendous writing skill. He makes me want to read more of his thoughts, so sensitively and artfully told. This book covered a lot of challenges for you, Col! ;)

  9. @Karen -- I wish I could say I'd planned it that way, but it wasn't until I finished reading that I realized I could fit it into so many (shamefully incomplete in September) challenges!

  10. @Bellezza -- It almost had a "Rashomon" quality to it, where you think you know the story until new information is introduced that changes your perspective. I enjoyed that part of the book very much. I'd agree, it wasn't what I expected either, but I loved Alenyikov's style.

  11. I like your comment about the story story format allowing you the opportunity to step back and take in what you'd read. Often I get so pulled into a book that I speed through it so I can find out what happens. I think that the format of this book would force me to take more time reading, and I like that.

    Thanks for being a part of the tour. I'm glad you enjoyed this one even if it was a challenging read.

  12. Col -- you totally nailed it -- I too loved the 'breather' space between stories -- they were so full of emotion and power but weren't overdone -- I really loved this collection.

  13. This books sounds really unique in its format but also its content. Thanks for highlighting it - it is new to me. And thanks for linking it to the Immigrant Stories Challenge!


I absolutely love comments. Thanks for taking the time to share! Col