Sunday, August 10, 2014
by Alexander Motyl
published by Alternative Books Press
reviewed by Mykola Mick Dementiuk
In trying to probe into and remember the past, Alexander Motyl, author of Fall River, gives us a new meaning and resonance to the characters who lived so long ago, the 1920s, the 30s and the 40s, lived, worked, suffered and were erased by History.
There is a faint memory, a theme permeating the entire novel, echoing at certain points but uncertain of what the reality actually is. “ Smo’getsinyorize,” is constantly being repeated over and over by some characters until a Soviet overlord puts a bullet between the eyes, after much torture and castration, and brings the entire charade to an end. The melody is “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes,” and seems to be one of the memories carried by the three main characters, Mike, Manya and Stefa, all brother and sisters at certain points of their lives, as they travel back and forth from nation to nation as if confused where to settle and live, Fall River, New York City or in Poland/Ukraine.
It starts off with Mike in a new country, learning the new tricks and the language of America and hitting up on every woman he comes upon, Edna, Wanda, or who? Poor Mike, what pain and suffering he brings upon himself.... Between Manya and Stefya, his sisters, they too are confused by the new country but they must work and raise families in the new homeland. But, of course, their father drags them back to Polish Ukraine after their mother’s death, only to live with the German Nazis coming into power in the late 1930s, early 40s.
Motyl paints a beautiful picture of the confused characters as they struggle to survive in a blustering country at a time when chaos seemed the order of the day. Being Ukrainian myself, I fully understand how almost impossible it may be to track down and isolate the scant moment of that past...
And Motyl does an excellent job in recreating the tenements, the moods, the feeling that was not only Polish Ukraine but the entire Ukrainian Lower East Side. Again, you could get lost and disappear in it. An excellent job, New York City and the Ukrainian Lower East Side lives again!
Alexander J. Motyl (b. 1953, NYC) is a writer, painter, and professor. Nominated for the Pushcart Prize in 2008 and 2013, he is the author of six novels, Whiskey Priest, Who Killed Andrei Warhol, Flippancy, The Jew Who Was Ukrainian, My Orchidia, and The Taste of Snow. He has done performances of his fiction and poetry at the Cornelia Street Café and the Bowery Poetry Club. Motyl’s artwork has been exhibited in solo and group shows in NYC, Philadelphia, and Toronto and is on display on the Internet gallery, www.artsicle.com. He teaches at Rutgers University-Newark and lives in NYC.
Lambda Literary Awards Winner 2013/Gay Erotica, 2009/Bisexual Fiction