arc copy -- thank you TLC book tours and to the publisher
" People camp here through the winter. Some people seek out wildness at all costs. And God blessed you with your own supply."
While it is very true that I've pretty much stopped taking advance reader copies in my somewhat Sisyphean effort to get through my toppling TBR pile, I enjoyed Boris Fishman's A Replacement Life so much that when I got an email asking if I'd care to read this novel for TLC book tours, I had to read it. Once again, the author delivers and does another excellent job.
Like A Replacement Life, the author once again explores identity in this book, and again, as in the earlier book, he looks at inheritance as well as the conflicts that can occur among immigrants in America as a result of the influence of both cultures. As the blurb notes, the book also looks at "the universal question of how we reconcile who we are, and whom the world wants us to be."
Just briefly, the woman at the center of things is Maya Rubin (née Shulman), who had come to America from Kiev to go to school but when it was time for her to return to the Ukraine, she ends up marrying Alex Rubin instead. Alex had immigrated to the US from Minsk with his parents while still a child, and became a US citizen. The Rubins are unable to have children, so they end up adopting a little boy. When the novel begins, Max is eight, and Maya has gone down to pick him up as he gets off the school bus, only to discover that he's not there. He does eventually come home, but they discover that he'd been found in a river, looking at pebbles close up. His running away is just sort of the last straw for Maya -- Max also likes to eat grass, sleep outside in a tent and is very much at home with the animals who make their way into the Rubins' yard. Maya simply doesn't understand him, and begins to wonder if he acts this way because of his birth heritage -- Max's very young birth parents had come from Montana, where his father, Tim, had a career in the rodeo. In fact, although Max's adoption was supposed to have been closed, the birth mother had insisted on personally delivering the baby ("like takeout") to the Rubins, leaving Maya with a request before they leave: "Please don't let my baby do rodeo." Max's "strange" behavior, understood neither by his adoptive parents nor his paternal grandparents, ultimately makes Maya wonder about herself as a mother and motherhood in general, but also leads both Maya and Alex to questions about adoption and genetics as well as the question of nature vs. nurture. Maya gets the idea that she really needs to go to Montana where she hopes answers about Max will be found with his birth parents; this quest becomes a "vacation" for just Alex, Maya and Max.
However, when all is said and done, the vacation turns out to be a vehicle for Maya's own journey of self exploration. Having never been west of New Jersey before, Maya sees an America she never knew existed, but more importantly, a chance meeting with a divorced man with two daughters in a diner steers Maya toward an understanding of just where Max's identity with the wild may come from.
There were some moments I didn't care for (shower scene at the campground, for example), but there's a lot of humor as well as some very poignant moments. I love the adoption and birth metaphors that run throughout the novel -- both vehicles to explore the whole cultural/self question. He also does such a great job in both setting up and resolving Maya's Russian/American identity crisis to the point where the second part of this book is nearly perfect. Most of all, I loved the symbolism of Maya's meeting with Marion and what happens as a result -- it is just so very nicely done, and really gets to the heart of what's happening in this book. While I did note a few similarities in overall plot structure between this book and his first one, Don't Let My Baby do Rodeo definitely stands on its own. It is a beautiful story, one that I can certainly recommend. Trust me here -- normally I can't stand this sort of thing but in Boris Fishman's very capable hands, it works and works extremely well. He's got this way of doing that to me -- it's bizarre.
Obviously this is a rather simplistic look at this book, and I'm not giving it the treatment it deserves, but Mr. Fishman offers his readers so much to ponder in this book that it's pretty much impossible. From my very casual reader point of view, this book is a definite winner, and I hope it goes on to sell megathousands of copies. Kudos. Wonderful novel.
I want to thank Trish at TLC Book Tours for offering this book to me -- I enjoyed it so much I'm buying a copy for my home library. Others are reading this book as well, and their ideas can be found here.