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A Replacement Life review – Boris Fishman tells tall tales in a fine debut

For The Guardian:

The story of the impact of a woman’s suicide through anorexia on her brother and her father

I was always going to like this novel. It is about Russia and Russian-ness and America and American-ness, about the relationship between the generations, history, atonement, fact, fiction, biography, literature and the process of writing … And, as if this were not enough, there is a scene in which the hero, Slava, drinks Boddington’s, the Mancunian beer of my youth. Yes, this is the real thing.

Boris Fishman was born in Minsk and emigrated to the US with his family at the age of nine. They settled in South Brooklyn. In the tradition of first novels, A Replacement Life reflects and refracts this experience. On the death of his grandmother, Slava rides the South Brooklyn-bound subway back to Midwood, “a foreign city, if you were coming from Manhattan” where the émigrés from the many ex-Soviet republics live amid the rowdy “churn” of “new arrivals”.
Slava, a writer manqué working as a junior editor on a literary magazine, has never managed to get the full story of his grandmother’s life. All he knows is that she was orphaned when the Nazis razed the Jewish ghetto in Minsk, and that somehow she escaped.

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