This was an impulse buy at Powell’s, wandering around in that place is delightful and deadly to the wallet. Natasha is a collection of six short stories about the Berman family, Russian Jews who have immigrated to Toronto in the eighties. The narrator in all of the stories is Mark, born in Latvia, who is about 7 or 8 when they arrive in Canada. The stories take place during different times of Mark’s life, but they are more about the experience of his family and others than Mark himself.
Mark’s father, Roman, was an Olympic weightlifting trainer in Riga, in Toronto he starts out in a chocolate factory. In the story, Roman Berman, Massage Therapist, Roman is opening his own business. “This was 1983, and as Russian Jews, recent immigrants, and political refugees, we were still a cause. We had good PR. We could trade on our history.” Their PR value wears off. In a later story, Mark, wanting to go to public school, acts to get expelled from Hebrew school, and gets a terrifying lesson on what it means to be a Jew.
The last story was the most touching for me. Mark’s grandfather is in a home for the elderly, the apartments are highly sought after in the Jewish community. Itzil and Herschel share an apartment, both are widowers, but some are suspicious of two men living together in a one room apartment. Itzil, the wealthier of the two, dies, and everyone expects Herschel to be evicted. The rabbi in charge, has his own standards for who will be allowed to live in the apartment. While it sounds callous, he doesn’t rely on promises, he relies on his experience.