2011 Northern California Book Award for Fiction
2011 Edmund White Award for Debut Fiction Nominee
Synopses & Reviews
In Ivan and Misha, Michael Alenyikov portrays the complexities of love, sexuality,
and the bonds of family with boldness and lyric sensitivity. As the Soviet Union
collapses, two young brothers are whisked away from Kiev by their father to start
life anew in America. The intricately linked stories in this powerful debut, set in
New York City at the turn of the millennium, swirl about the uneasy bond between
fraternal twins, Ivan and Misha, devoted brothers who are haunted, each in his own
way, by the death of their mother; but these twins are brothers who could not be more different...Bipolar Ivan, like their father, is a natural seducer, a gambler who always has a scheme afoot between fares in his cab and stints in Bellevue. Misha struggles to create a
sense of family with his quixotic boyfriend, Smith, his wildly unpredictable
brother, and their father, Lyov ("Call me Louie!"), marooned in Brighton Beach yet
ever the ladies' man. An evocative and frank exploration of identity, loss,
dislocation, and desire, Ivan and Misha marks the arrival of a uniquely gifted voice
in American fiction.
"Alenyikov's richly detailed yet straightforward prose pulls us into the world the father and brothers have made for themselves in contemporary New York City, capturing the jitteriness of Ivan's manic episodes, the tensions of urban gay life, and the coping with family acceptance and AIDS. In one story, set in the week before 9/11, the mere dates on the calendar puts readers on edge. The strongest story, told in Louie's voice, takes us inside the infirmities, sorrows, and the long perspective of advancing age." Library Journal
"This story cycle loosely depicts the lives of twin brothers Ivan and Misha, who were born in Kiev and brought to New York by their father at age eleven....Word madness is a hallmark of the writing: lyrical descriptions of place, time, and events; touches of the bizarre; everyday humor; and a love of New York from Brighton Beach in Brooklyn to the gentrifying East Village delight with their clarity and detail. Written with sweetness, compassion, and great beauty, this book will have broad appeal to lovers of short fiction, literary writing, and gay fiction." Booklist
"A haunting collection of love and duty." Marie Myung-Ok Lee, author of Somebody's Daughter
"For the Russian immigrants twins who are the main characters of Ivan and Misha, everyday existence consists of heartbreak, love, and the unexpected. With exuberance and dark humor, Michael Alenyikov depicts their life in New York. These wonderful connected stories are full of warmth, psychological insight, and winning originality" Alice Mattison, author of Nothing is Quite Forgotten in Brooklyn
"Ivan and Misha is the Great American Russian Novel told as Chekhov would tell it, in stories of delicacy, humanity, and insight. From Kiev to Manhattan, Brighton Beach, and Bellevue, Michael Alenyikovsky lays out a series of compelling arguments for brotherhood between brothers, between lovers, between men from an old country. Alenyikov confronts big subjects -- illness and madness, sex and love in the age of AIDS, Old and New World values, a fallen wall, the metaphysics of survival, the march of generations." Carolyn Cooke, author of The Bostons and Daughters of the Revolution
"Winner of the 2011 Northern California Book Award for Fiction, Ivan and Misha, is best described as a novel in stories. Many faceted-love -- from the intense and fleeting to bonds of familial obligation -- is the book's subject, one that requires a complex interplay of character and plot in five lengthy tales to explore. What happens to us when we love? How terrible are the deeds that love can make us commit? When the lines between love, madness, and death begin to blur, you know you are in Alenyikov territory." Karen Laws, The Rumpus.net
"Its publisher labels this stunning debut a collection of stories, but it could just as easily have been called a novel. All the stories focus on or circle around the eponymous fraternal twins and their father, Lyov, who emigrate from Kiev to New York City in the 1980s. Eleven at the time of the move, Ivan and Misha have become men very different from one another when the book ends in 2001. Father, sons, lover, friends, neighbors, co-workers are captured from different point of view and at different, nonsequential times during these years, so that we come to see their lives from multiple and constantly changing angles, a sort of literary cubism. Together the stories have the thrilling surprises, the emotional depth, and the cumulative power of a longer work of fiction. Ivan and Misha is witty and lyrical, but it is also very tough. As he chronicles the terrors as well as the joys of family life and of homosexual love, the irretrievable lies of the past and the unfulfilled longs of the present, the sorrows of exile and the brutalities of the new world, the author never flinches or sentimentalizes. From page 24: 'The troika: Tolstoy, Chekhov, Gogol. Endlessly read.' In bringing the expansive vision of Tolstoy, the often scabrous humor of Gogol, and the tenderness of Chekhov to the mean streets of New York and the United States in the Age of AIDS, Michael Alenyikov has created a new American classic." Steve Simmons, Chair of the Northern California Book Awards Fiction Committee
The linked stories in this powerful debut by Michael Alenyikov swirl around the titular fraternal twins and their father, Louie, as they make their way from the oppressive world of Soviet-era Kiev to the frenetic world of New York City in the late nineties and early aughts. Ivan, like his father, is a natural seducer and gambler who always has a scheme afoot between fares in his cab and stints in Bellevue for his bipolar disorder. Misha, more haunted than his brother by the death of their mother after their birth, is ostensibly the voice of reason.
Socially adrift, father and sons search for meaning in their divergent romantic relationships. Louie embarks on a traditional heterosexual dating relationship late in life, while Ivan is sexually opportunistic and omnivorous, and Misha, a young gay man, is torn between his family and the prospect of a committed relationship. The brothers' search for connection leads them through a multitude of subcultures, all depicted in vivid detail. An evocative and frank exploration of identity, loss, dislocation, and sexuality, Ivan and Misha
marks the arrival of a unique, authentic voice.
About the Author
Michael Alenyikov's short stories have appeared in Canada's Descant, The Georgia Review, the James White Review, New York Stories, and Modern Words. They have been anthologized in Best Gay Stories, 2008, Best Gay Stories, 2011, and Tartts Four: Incisive Fiction from Emerging Writers. His essays have appeared in the Gay & Lesbian Review. He was a MacDowell Fellow and nominated for a Pushcart Prize. He's worked as a bookstore clerk, clinical psychologist, cab driver, and interactive media writer. His childhood encompassed the Bronx, Phoenix, Los Angeles, Brooklyn, and Queens. Ivan and Misha is his first book.