cover image Love Like Water, Love Like Fire

Love Like Water, Love Like Fire

Mikhail Iossel. Bellevue Literary Press, $16.99 trade paper (304p) ISBN 978-1-942658-56-6

Iossel (Every Hunter Wants to Know) presents an at times absurdist look at Jewish life in Soviet Russia and the Diaspora in this vibrant collection. In “The Night Andropov Died,” an “underground writer” working the night shift as a guard at a Leningrad amusement park hears a Voice of America announcement that Andropov, head of the KGB and successor to Brezhnev, has died, and is stirred by the feeling that change will come. In “Life: How Was It?” two boyhood friends from Leningrad unexpectedly meet as adults at the Strand Bookstore in Manhattan and reminisce about the old days, forgetting more painful moments and ending on a note of comic resignation. In the title story, an instant expands to an eternity as a young woman in 1939 waits anxiously for NKVD officers climbing the apartment stairs to take away her husband for being a Jew, despite his “naïve optimism” for “the Great Leader’s transcendental supernatural genius.” 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. (May)