July 12, 2004 12:00 PM

By David Bezmozgis

CRITIC’S CHOICE

David Bezmozgis’s publishers are comparing this debut collection to those of such acclaimed contemporaries as Jhumpa Lahiri. But in fact Bezmozgis has more in common with the great writers of the past. These dazzling, hilarious and hugely compassionate narratives follow the Berman family as they emigrate from Latvia to Toronto, tracing the familiar arc of immigrant experience from near destitution to relative comfort and security. But there’s nothing familiar about the freshness and precision of this writer’s vision as it focuses on a neighbor’s coddled pet dog, an endearing and sexually promiscuous 14-year-old girl, a champion weight lifter whose star is rapidly fading—and alchemizes their stories into art. Readers will find themselves laughing out loud, then gasping as Bezmozgis brings these fictions to the searing, startling and perfectly pitched conclusions that remind us that, as the Russian writer Isaac Babel said, “no iron can stab the heart so powerfully as a period put in exactly the right place.”

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