Praise for Love Like Water, Love Like Fire
“What distinguishes Iossel as a writer, aside from his obvious talent for atmospheric dramedy, is his lucid, musical prose style. . . . Iossel’s marvelous sense of rhythm dazzles the reader. We can’t stop turning the pages of this book.” Ilya Kaminsky, New York Times Book Review
“The former USSR continues to cast a long shadow on our current affairs, but Mikhail Iossel brings a fresh eye to the region. . . . Engaging equally with the absurdity and brutality of life in a repressive regime, [Love Like Water, Love Like Fire is] perfect for fans of Gogol and George Saunders alike.” Chicago Review of Books
“Very funny. . . . In Love like Water, Love like Fire, jokes point to the absurdities and logical contradictions in everyday life. . . . There is something refreshing about Iossel’s willingness to maintain his sense of irony, even about such intractable subjects as anti-Semitism, the ghastliness of Soviet bureaucracy, or the irreconcilability of death with human happiness.” Literary Review of Canada
“There’s a breathlessness and richness in the prose. . . . Making this work on the sentence level takes confidence and skill, but Iossel also possesses depth of ideas, passions and a sharp eye for detail. . . . His lens is honest and compassionate. If there’s one takeaway from Love Like Water, Love Like Fire, it’s that this compassion may be necessary today more than ever.” Winnipeg Free Press
“An expertly written set of stories, often brimming with dark humor, offering many vantage points from which to consider the Soviet experience, and the particular burdens it placed on Jews.” J. The Jewish News of Northern California
“Iossel brings his warm, gently ironic authorial voice to bear on the cruel and often surreal lives of Jews in the Soviet Union. . . . ‘There is love like fire, and there is love like water,’ say the Hasidic masters, and Iossel’s collection explores that dichotomy.” Jewish Book Council
“[A] vibrant collection. . . . With an ear for the clumsiness of Russian bureaucratic nomenclature, an eye for Kafkaesque humiliations, and a heart that embraces all the paradoxes of being a Soviet Jew, Iossel casts a spell over the reader. Reading like Sholem Aleichem updated by Bruce Jay Friedman, these stories reflect the exciting evolution of Russian Jewish literature.” Publishers Weekly
“[An] engaging collection. . . . While many stories illuminate the absurdity of Soviet society, Iossel conveys the brutal oppression of the surveillance state most intensely, and hauntingly, in the title story.” Kirkus Reviews
“Replete with an erudite wit and eloquent wisdom, Love Like Water, Love Like Fire is an extraordinary, thoughtful, and thought-provoking read.” Midwest Book Review
“Love Like Water, Love Like Fire is an extraordinary book: funny and profound, moving and provocative. Rarely has life in the former USSR (or anywhere, for that matter) been portrayed with such a rich admixture of soaring observation and finely rendered detail. This is a gorgeously constructed collection by one of our wittiest and most insightful writers.” Molly Antopol, author of The UnAmericans
“Mikhail Iossel is a genius, a comic visionary in the tradition of Gogol, Keret, Barthelme, and Saunders. Love Like Water, Love Like Fire is a book of surprises and delights.” Brian Morton, author of Starting Out in the Evening and Florence Gordon
Select Praise for Mikhail Iossel
“Mikhail Iossel is an intense and thoughtful force for decency in the world.” George Saunders, author of Lincoln in the Bardo and Fox 8
“[Iossel’s] point of view [is] a needed cocktail of rage, knowledge, unique personal experience, and hard-won humor.” Aimee Bender, author of The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake and The Butterfly Lampshade
“Iossel has mastered his adoptive language so well that his English is not only impeccable but his own. It possesses an unmistakable voice: abrupt, suggestive and bleak.” Los Angeles Times
Autobiographical fiction portrays life in Soviet Russia.
Thirty years after the publication of Every Hunter Wants To Know, Iossel, who was born in 1955 and immigrated to the U.S. in 1986, offers another engaging collection of stories evoking his Soviet childhood and young adulthood. Jewish identity is a recurring theme: In “Necessary Evil,” parents surprise their 9-year-old son by telling him that he is a Jew. Encouraging him to “embrace it unreservedly, because it defines by far the most important part of you,” they assure him that Jews are “covert agents” to promote good in the world. Yet the news is unsettling for a child who sees blatant anti-Semitism everywhere. What if all the Soviet people who deride Jews are right? he wonders. Besides, as the narrator of “The Night We Were Told Brezhnev Was Dead” reflects: “Hardly any one of us knew the first thing about Jewish history or a single word of the Jewish language, which was called Hebrew and was banned from private study.” As a Jew, he feels especially vulnerable to the state’s repression: “All of us Soviet people existed largely at the mercy of the KGB”—especially Jews. Yet the Soviet Union insisted it was a “society of ultimate justice,” in contrast to America, “a dark, dangerous, ominously rumbling, potentially deadly word.” America was to be hated, and “ordinary oppressed, exploited, proletarian Americans” were to be pitied. While many stories illuminate the absurdity of Soviet society, Iossel conveys the brutal oppression of the surveillance state most intensely, and hauntingly, in the title story: an internal monologue by a wife fearing that agents have come to arrest her husband in the middle of the night. “Anyone can be disappeared at any time,” she thinks, knowing that she will be taken soon after, their orphaned children will be indoctrinated to hate them, and no one will care.
Appealing stories bear witness to a dark reality.