Slava Gelman, a twentysomething aspiring writer, is trying to claw his way out of the post-Soviet Brooklyn neighborhood of his family. But his grandfather is determined to pull him back in. He wants to enlist Slava to invent life stories for Soviet émigrés in the hopes of getting money from the claims conference for Holocaust survivors, despite the fact that technically these émigrés are not survivors.
It’s a preposterous—and sometimes hilarious—scenario but one that raises serious questions about truth, fiction, and suffering. Those matters are at the heart of A Replacement Life, the debut novel from émigré writer Boris Fishman.
Fishman joins Vox Tablet host Sara Ivry to discuss if and how his protagonist can shed his Soviet habits and affiliations and become American, what attracts Fishman to his grandparents’ generation, and why Bernard Malamud is a literary hero.