February 4th, 2011

andrew potter

Ivan and Misha: stories by Michael Alenyikov

What probably most surprised me of this novel is that, despite the more than serious plot, it was not tragic at all; it had indeed a “Russian” feeling, Russian is a particular people, apparently cold and unwelcoming, but able to open their home and arms in the intimacy of a friendship or love or family, family most of all.

Ivan and Misha are fraternal brothers, twins, but they are very different: Misha took from his mother side as appearance, blonde and lean, instead Ivan is dark and short. The differences are not only physical, Misha has always been the thinker and Ivan the dreamer; even when they were little, it was Misha who took care of Ivan and Ivan has always known Misha was there for him. Now that they are in their twenty, and a lot of things have changed, first of all they moved from Kiev to New York City, Ivan and Misha’s bond is still there, stronger than everything, even stronger than the bond they have with their respective partner. Both Ivan than Misha are gay, and Misha is in a in-living relationship with Smith, but if Ivan calls, at every hour, for every reason, Misha lets go everything and answers him. The reader will learn that it’s not only a brotherly love, that there is more between them, a bond that dares not only conventions, but also law. The reader will learn that Misha has AIDS and that Ivan is mad with him, not since he is ill, but because he did it to “them”, and moreover he did it for the love of a man who was not Ivan. Misha loved Kevin, and he loves Smith, but that love, and this love, is small thing in comparison to the bond he has with Ivan. Oddily, this bond is not proposed to the reader like a drama, or a forbidden thing, but it’s more like something unavoidable, like if there was no Ivan without Misha, or no Misha without Ivan. They can find temporary lovers, they can be even happy with those lovers, but the real relationship is only one.

Every chapter of the novel, every story, is told from a different point of view and it has not really a consecutio temporis: “Ivan and Misha” is told by Misha, “Barrel of Laughs” by Louie, Ivan and Misha’s father, “It takes all kinds” by Smith, Misha’s actual lover, “Whirling Dervish” by Ivan, “Who did what to whom?” by Kevin, Misha’s former lover. In this way we have not only different point of views, but also different versions of the same story; sincerely no one of the voices is my favourite, they have all their strength and peculiarity. Of course Misha is probably the wisest, but not for this reason he is the one with the rightness on his side.

There are bad and good things, illness and death, but there is also a lot of love. And in a way it’s also a story with a happily for now ending. The death in the story was something the reader was prepared to, and maybe this is a spoiler, but don’t worry, the two brothers will be still alive at the end of the novel, still trying to find a way for them to be in this life, between their lovers on opposite side and their bond in the middle.

Amazon: Ivan and Misha: Stories
Paperback: 212 pages
Publisher: Triquarterly / Northwestern University Press (October 30, 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0810127180
ISBN-13: 978-0810127180

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