The linked stories in this powerful debut by Michael Alenyikov swirl around the titular fraternal twins and their father, Louie, as they make their way from the oppressive world of Soviet-era Kiev to the frenetic world of New York City in the late nineties and early aughts. Ivan, like his father, is a natural seducer and gambler who always has a scheme afoot between fares in his cab and stints in Bellevue for his bipolar disorder. Misha, more haunted than his brother by the death of their mother after their birth, is ostensibly the voice of reason.
Socially adrift, father and sons search for meaning in their divergent romantic relationships. Louie embarks on a traditional heterosexual dating relationship late in life, while Ivan is sexually opportunistic and omnivorous, and Misha,a young gay man, is torn between his family and the prospect of a committed relationship. The brothers’ search for connection leads them through a multitude of subcultures, all depicted in vivid detail. An evocative and frank exploration of identity, loss, dislocation, and sexuality, Ivan and Misha marks the arrival of a unique, authentic voice.
|Publisher:||Northwestern University Press|
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.60(d)|
About the Author
Michael Alenyikov’s short stories have appeared in Canada’s Descant, the Georgia Review, New York Stories, and the James White Review, and have been anthologized in Best Gay Stories 2008 and Tartts Four: Incisive Fiction from Emerging Writers. His essays have appeared in the Gay & Lesbian Review. He was a MacDowell Fellow in 2004–5, and was nominated for a Pushcart Prize in 2007. Raised in New York City, Alenyikov has worked as a bookstore clerk, a clinical psychologist, a cab driver, an interactive media writer, and a consultant. He lives in San Francisco.
Table of Contents
Kiev, USSR, 1980s
Ivan and Misha
New York City, July 2000
A Barrel of Laughs
It Takes All Kinds
Who Did What to Whom?
New York City, January 2001
What People are Saying About This
For the Russian immigrant twins who are the main characters of lvan and Misha, everyday existence consists of heartbreak, love, and the unexpected. With exuberance and dark humor. Michael Alenyikov depicts their life in New York. These wonderful connected stories are full of warmth, psychological insight, and winning originality. (Alice Mattison, author of Nothing Is Quite Forgotten in Brooklyn)
Ivan and Misha is the Great American Russian Novel told as Chekhov Would tell it, in stories of delicacy, humanity, and insight. From Kiev to Manhattan, Brighton Beach, and Bellevue, Michael Alenyikov lays out a series of compelling arguments for brotherhood between brothers, between lovers, between men from an old country. Alenyikov confronts big subjects-illness and madness, sex and love in the age of AIDS, Old and New World values, a fallen wall, the metaphysics of survival, the march of generations. (Carolyn Cooke, author of The Bostons and Daughters of the Revolution)
A haunting collection of love and duty. There is much to admire on every page. (Marie Myung-Ok Lee, author of Somebody's Daughter)
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
First of all, I love short stories. When they are done right, they are short, brilliantly told glimpses into the character's life as they experience some sort of conflict or decision. When they are done wrong, they can be chaotic in pace and tell a story so full of holes, it seems you are reading a rather large piece of Swiss cheese. Thankfully this collection falls into that first category. It's a fascinating novel told within the bounds of unsequential short stories. What I loved about his book is how it, despite the secondary characters, narrowed in on the rather symbiotic (borderline parasitic) relationship between the two brothers, who are fraternal twins. Relationships between siblings can often times be complicated, messy things with boundaries being crossed countless times. Things are no different between Ivan & Misha. They are constantly involved with the most personal things in each other's lives, sometimes making others a bit jealous. They had a rather traumatic childhood, involving the the death of their mother and a sudden move to a new country, all at a very young age. Those two events shaped the rest of their lives in ways both good and bad. They never knew the truth of their mother's death because their father didn't want to burden them with the sickness that slowly took her life. Instead he told them that she died after giving birth to them. I think that's the first mistake he made. That death, and as a result their mother, took on an almost mythical role in their lives. The story of a mother who dies in able for her children to be born, becomes an example of love that nothing else can ever possibly reach. It's an a goal that can never be reached by anyone else. For me, it's that struggle for love that shapes both of their lives. Because of that warped sense of what pure loves is, it sends both boys down roads and into relationships with those that can never truly be there for them. Ivan, at a young age, becomes involved with an older man who can never fully commit and gives him HIV. His next serious relationship, with Smith, is with a younger man who not only can't really commit to Ivan, despite really loving him, but can't commit to a name or an identity for himself. Misha craves love from his father and anyone else that will have him. He has an almost manic need to be wanted by someone, a need that he will turn back around on his brother. It's that last part that shapes their bond more than anything else. I know quite a few of the reviews I've read take issue with the way the second story ends in the book. For some it was an action that came out of the blue or was added for the shock value. When it first happened, I will admit to feeling a little unsure of it myself. I wasn't able to understand why it was happening or the necessity for it. Once I finished the book, it made a little more sense to me. The action takes place in such a profound moment of grief and despair that they both need something to grasp onto as an anchor to keep them slipping over the edge. After getting to know them, I not only don't think it was out of character for their relationship, but I think that it was almost inevitable. I could be off base and totally wrong, there may have been another reason for it to happen, but I don't think it was for the shock value. Ivan & Misha was one of those rare books that keeps my attention long after I've finished it. Michael Alenyikov writes with one of th
Ivan and Mischa by Michael Alenyikov explores the many forms of love between men. This includes gay men who love each other, certainly, but it also includes the love between fathers and sons, between brothers and between friends as well. Love takes many forms even when it does not cross between sexes. Ivan and Mischa are fraternal twins, raised by their father after the death of their mother, they believe, in childbirth. Their father Louie takes them away from their Kiev birthplace as the Soviet Union is collapsing, choosing to raise them in New York City. As adults, Ivan is unable to make his dreams of wealth come true, but he finds satisfaction as a cab driver, when he has his bi-polar condition under control at least. Mischa lives with his much younger lover Smith; theirs is a difficult relationship that may not outlast the novel. The two brothers share the duty of caring for their aging father with their father's devoted friend Leo. Mr. Alenyikov tells his tale through a series of interconnected shorty stories much like A Visit from the Goon Squad and Olive Kitteridge. Of late, this has become such a common device, inter-linked short stories, that it may end up a sort of sub-genre unto itself. It would be possible to read any of the stories in Ivan and Mischa disconnect from the rest, but through them a fully formed narrative emerges. When we find out in one story that what Louie has told his sons in another is not true, we fell the emotional impact doubly because we know how the lie has affected Ivan and Mischa in ways Louie does not. While the same effect could certainly be achieved in a traditional, linear narrative form, the use of short stories allows for a book with several points of emotional impact. Narratives typically have one big reveal in them at some point. A novel has one. A short story has one. A book of shorts stories has as many. Mr. Alenyikov uses this new form, the series of interconnected short stories, to deliver a series of emotional moments that would be difficult to do in a novel without reaching a point of critical overload.It's become my habit the last few years to keep only books that I think I'll read again. The rest I give away. I'll be keeping my copy of Ivan and Mischa. I'm confident that it will end up on my list of top ten favorite reads this year, and I'm sure that I will read it again.
Ivan and Misha was the only story that managed to touch my black heart this year. Bravo Mr. Alenyikov. I hope to read more from you soon.