Ivan and Misha

They lay quiet, looking up at the sky. “Which do you think is bigger,” Misha asked, “the Grand Canyon or the Milky Way?”

“Wrong question, Mishka. The point is not how big they are, it’s how small we are.”

“But together, you and me,” Misha had said, “we’re as big and grand as this canyon and all the stars put together.”

What a tender book this is. I’m not Russian, I’m not a twin, I’m not especially close to my brother, and I’m not homosexual. But Michael Alenyikov writes with such compassion and eloquence, that these two brothers and their father became instantly endearing to me. Through a series of separate-but-connected chapters we read of their lives; the way their father has brought them to America, sparing them the full story of their mother’s death, but fulfilling his promise to them. Now he is fragile, even dying, but he loves his sons and on this they can rely.

Ivan is manic depressive. When he’s “up” he’s in a frantic state, once not sleeping for nine days in a row, driving his taxis around New York, talking with his fares, calling his brother with hare-brained schemes or consolations depending on his mood.

Misha is the steadier one, in my opinion, of these twins. The bond between them is flawed but unbreakable. He will set aside everything when Ivan calls, ready to be there for Ivan’s needs which in many ways answer his own.

Ivan and Misha is a powerful look at America. At homosexuality. At family. It reads with a lyricism I would have thought impossible given such emotionally laden themes. It touched me quite deeply, especially when Alenyikov wrote of their father, or the way I felt that neither Russia nor America was their home.

Aren’t many of us ‘strangers in this land’?

22 thoughts on “Ivan and Misha”

  1. Your description of how this book made you feel, despite it having no connection with you & your life, defines what it is about literature that makes us hunger for it. thanks, this sounds beautiful.


  2. I loved this book so much that I began to worry it might be just me. I'm glad to see that others think as highly of it as I do. I still would have published the gushing review I'm going to, but I won't feel as awkward about it.


  3. I love it when an author can make me identify with characters that are absolutely nothing like me at all – sounds like this is that kind of book!

    Thanks for being on the tour. I'm featuring your review on TLC's Facebook page today


  4. Parrish, I think you've described one of the ways that makes me (and other bibliophiles) love literature so much: that connection with characters, place and events which makes us long for more. Most of the time, that's more important to me than story. (Plot)


  5. C.B. James, I love the honesty of your comment. I know there have been times when I've felt self conscious about my thoughts or reviews toward a book, and yet we are amongst friends. I'm looking forward to reading your thoughts.


  6. Bermuda onion, you don't have to worry about missing any 'action' with the interconnected chapters. They're more like a fresh perspective from each character so you get all these wonderful points of view.


  7. Adrienne, when I typed the quote I was thinking of it more in terms of the two brothers, but now I realize that we as readers can see things differently through the author's expertise. Of course, but still…it's one of the great joys of reading to have my horizons expanded through another's perspective.

    Mystica, I'm sorry there were limitations on where the book could be sent. I suppose it becomes to expensive for the publisher to send far and wide. 😦


  8. Bellezza, I didn’t see an email contact on your lovely blog so hope you’ll see this in the comments section.

    I’m a little late on this, but after a long delay “Ivan and Misha” was finally released as a kindle ebook. Because it’s so long after publication (and I’ve no publicist) I was wondering if you might mention this on your blog as a way for me to reach new readers. I worked up a graphic announcement, which I’ll attach to this message in case there’s an appropriate way to present it on your blog or maybe twitter feed (I’m not on twitter, myself). I leave it, of course, up to your judgment. I am working on two new books although it all comes slowly as I’m seriously ill with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.

    I just reread your review and again found it one of the most thoughtful the book has received and thank you for it.

    my best, michael


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