” The differences were as profound as the approach to God defined by Catholics and Protestants, Jews and Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists. And just as irreconcilable. In Misha’s world one was loyal to the death for family, even if they drove you crazy, even if they were crazy. ” (It Takes All Kinds, p.85)
Ivan and Misha is a set of interrelated stories about two fraternal twins, both gay, but one of whom is not completely sure of his sexuality, and their father, Lyov. Born and raised in former USSR, in Kiev (now Ukraine), they followed their father to America after the fall of Berlin Wall. Lyov, who became Louie after he arrived in New York, received one year of medical training and was sent out into the horror of Second World War to amputate limbs from soldiers without anesthetics. He promised his sons a better life, a new apartment, a new mother—after his wife took her life just before the boys turned six.
We stared at each other. Neither of us gave ground. Time passed. I don’t recall if I’d ever stared so long into another man’s eyes—and yes, I could see what I’d been missing for too long: that he was no longer a boy. And I had no choice: accept him or lose him, really quite an easy decision. (Barrel of Laughs, p.57)
The five tales explore different facets of love and meanings of family. Each narrated by father, two sons, and lovers, respectively, the stories establish context and time frames for the other stories. Misha emerges as a compassionate and accommodating person who struggles to create a sense of family with his quixotic boyfriend, Smith, his wildly unpredictable, bipolar brother, Ivan, and his father Lyov, who has recently suffered a minor stroke. When Ivan, the bipolar brother who is a cab driver, is shot by a fare, it’s revealed that Misha is HIV positive—he cannot give blood to his brother. Lyov, protective of his sons, wants to spare his boys the painful truth that their mother committed suicide when they were very young. The same self-serving lies are told to Misha by Smith, who strives to rid of his memory and tie to his family. The most unforgivable lie is told to Misha by his former lover Kevin, whose story transports reader back to the early years of the AIDS epidemic and the hospital room of his dying lover, Vinnie.
Ivan and Misha subtly explores how the past, with its horrors, exerts an influence on life in the present. It also explores how one’s future shall be altered when death divides us from people we love. In the father Alenyikov has created a memorable character of cultural depth. It’s almost condescending of him to change his name to Louie and takes up friendship with Leo, someone who is unmatched to his background and who would not understand the depth of Lyov’s thoughts and culture. Also in Lyov one sees the power of love, which transcends all values. He comes to embrace his son’s sexuality with an open mind, out of love; and he never questions what or how or why—just accepts who he is. The prose is beautiful and lyrical, with a mix of dialogue and stream-of-consciousness. Ivan and Misha is not an read read. It begs to be re-read because the overlapping moment of significance at the confluence of these lives is not readily revealed.
198 pp. Northwestern University Press. [Read|Skim|Toss] [Buy|Borrow]
Filed under: American Literature, Books, Contemporary Literature, Gay Literature, Literature Tagged: | Books, Contemporary Literature, GLBT Literature, Ivan and Misha, Literature, Michael Alenyikov, Stories