“You form a certain image,” says Arianna Bock, a third-generation American Jew, to Slava Gelman, a twentysomething, first-generation Russian Jewish immigrant.She is speaking, in Boris Fishman’s debut novel , of how she perceives Russia, just as many American Jews do, based on the stories their grandparents had passed down about the old country.Could it be that we are at a point of oversaturation and a critical juncture: How much more is there for this literature to say?
Now, ever the schemer, he cynically embraces Slava as a writer and asks him to complete the “narrative” part of the application, which asks for the applicant’s account of the personal suffering endured during the Holocaust—with his wife’s story deployed as if it were his own.
Zhenya’s proposal, detestable though it seems to Slava at first, becomes an opportunity to imagine his grandmother’s life.
Slava has to imagine this life because—Slava’s grandmother being one of the people who preferred “to live as if their tragic mistakes never took place”—the actual details are scant.
The awareness of this, scattered on the pages of these books, gives us a hint that the future of this literature may lie not in the rehashing of somewhat familiar stories but rather in a more radical practice of “replacement lives”: a cleaner break with the experience these writers already know and a more daring flight into the possibilities of fiction.
*** In Yiddish, the expression “grandmother’s tales” refers to far-fetched stories that never happened.