Virtual Memories Show 325:
Boris Fishman

“Cooking is the only thing in my life that creates the same exalted transport that writing does.”

With his new memoir, Savage Feast: Three Generations, Two Continents, and a Dinner Table (a Memoir with Recipes), author Boris Fishman explores his family’s Soviet Jewish legacy, his arc as a writer, and the glorious and varied meals that kept his family together from Minsk to Brighton Beach. We get into why creative nonfiction is his first passion (after publishing two novels), how he guaranteed his family’s disapproval by writing about them throughout his career, how he couldn’t leave Sovietness behind until he moved out of his parents’ home at 24 (despite emigrating from the USSR at 9), what he’d do if he quit the writing game, and why the recipes were the toughest part of Savage Feast. We also talk smack about certain books and authors, compare Malamud to Roth and Bellow, discuss the first (very not Jewish/not Russian) writer Boris became friends with, and explore the use of fiction to imagine alternate lives for oneself. Along the way, we make a life-changing pact, decide whether an MFA is worth pursuing, share book tour best practices, and conclude that Soviet Jewish guilt is exponentially more severe than Jewish guilt. It’s a whole lot of talk about books, food, and deracinated Jews! Give it a listen! And go buy Savage Feast!

“What makes me Soviet is not having spent my first 9 years in that country, but how many years I spent under my parents’ roof.”

“We read novels trying to sniff out what really happened, and we read memoirs what didn’t really happen.”

“I had this very smug idea that the recipes would be easy, because they didn’t involve creating sentences. I couldn’t have been more wrong.”

“The finality of one’s self can be devastating.”

Enjoy the conversation! Then check out the archives for more great episodes!

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About our Guest

Boris Fishman was born in Minsk, Belarus, and emigrated to the United States in 1988. His work has appeared in the New Yorker, the New York Times Magazine, the New York Times Book Review, Travel + Leisure, the London Review of Books, New York magazine, the Wall Street Journal, and the Guardian, among other publications. He is the author of the novels A Replacement Life, which was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year and winner of the VCU Cabell First Novelist Award and the American Library Association’s Sophie Brody Medal, and Don’t Let My Baby Do Rodeo, which was also a New York Times Notable Book of the Year. He teaches in Princeton University’s Creative Writing Program and lives in New York City. His new book is the memoir, Savage Feast: Three Generations, Two Continents, and a Dinner Table (a Memoir with Recipes).

Credits: This episode’s music is Fella by Hal Mayforth, used with permission from the artist. The conversation was recorded at my house on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 Microphones feeding into a Zoom H5 digital recorder. I recorded the intro and outro on a Heil PR-40 Dynamic Studio Recording Microphone feeding into a Cloudlifter CL-1 and a Mackie Onyx Blackjack 2×2 USB Recording Interface. All processing and editing done in Adobe Audition CC. Photo of me & Boris and b/w photo of Boris by me. It’s on my instagram. Nicer pic with brick wall by Stephanie Kaltsas.

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