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“You form a certain image,” says Arianna Bock, a third-generation American Jew, to Slava Gelman, a twentysomething, first-generation Russian Jewish immigrant.She is speaking, in Boris Fishman’s debut novel , of how she perceives Russia, just as many American Jews do, based on the stories their grandparents had passed down about the old country.Could it be that we are at a point of oversaturation and a critical juncture: How much more is there for this literature to say?In Fishman’s novel, Arianna’s comment on Slava’s story is a fine example of “meta-fiction”—a device by which the writer pierces through the fictional world they created and wants the reader to notice the artifice behind this world’s construction.Zhenya had previously dismissed Slava’s writerly aspirations as unsuitable for a successful immigrant.Now, ever the schemer, he cynically embraces Slava as a writer and asks him to complete the “narrative” part of the application, which asks for the applicant’s account of the personal suffering endured during the Holocaust—with his wife’s story deployed as if it were his own.
A dozen years after the publication of Gary Shteyngart’s in 2002, which was the first notable novel in what would become a full-fledged literary subgenre, this year’s abundant harvest, including besides Fishman’s debut new works by Lara Vapnyar, Ellen Litman, Anya Ulinich, and, later this year, David Bezmozgis, offers a fitting excuse for wondering about this literature’s future.
Their coming of age as immigrant writers can be mapped over two overlapping phenomena.
On the one hand, they were buoyed by the explosion of literature of immigrant experience in America on the cusp of the 21st century, their names added to the list that includes the likes of Jhumpa Lahiri, Junot Díaz, Aleksandar Hemon, and Chang-rae Lee (who was Shteyngart’s mentor).
Slava’s essay is one of two submitted: He had been asked to write the piece in a competition with another eager junior employee.
The editorial board votes down Slava’s contribution because it doesn’t stick to the assignment. For Slava, this rejection stings: He had tied his American aspirations to success at , but the magazine doesn’t appear to be interested in what he has to say—because he says it about himself.