From this collection, you will learn how to make little codes from telephone rings to avoid the K.G.B., how to speak in the presence of public officials, how to be a Jew in the Soviet Union. For this reviewer, another Jew who grew up in the U.S.S.R., Iossel’s descriptions ring very true. He is a master of atmosphere. But my favorite moments in the book have little to do with the Soviet reality it depicts, and everything to do with individual human experiences like the ironic and tender portrait in the story Blue, where a blind man recalls how he lost his sight years ago, straining to see in his cell at night while writing poems to an imaginary love ... By the end of the collection, Iossel succeeds in giving an insider’s view of the Soviet Union, but shared through the outsider perspective of a slightly bemused man now living far away. What distinguishes Iossel as a writer, aside from his obvious talent for atmospheric dramedy, is his lucid, musical prose style. Despite his dark humor, metaphysical asides and absurdist turns — or maybe because of them — his stories are delightfully easy to read; Iossel’s marvelous sense of rhythm dazzles the reader. We can’t stop turning the pages of this book, no matter what kind of tunnel might await us at the end of the light.
... [an] excellent new collection ... Iossel’s stories of Soviet life...are filled with men and women living second lives, drunks who avoided death (to their distress), and whole families of Soviet citizens who are not killed, not officially, but 'disappeared.' Death, in these stories, punctuates life like a question mark ... Religion offers hope in the face of oblivion, but, in the officially atheist USSR, its resources are hard to find and hard to know how to use. In 'Necessary Evil,' one of the funniest stories in this very funny book, the parents of nine-year-old Iossel break the news that he is a Jew. To console the boy, they try to explain Judaism’s rich traditions, but, given their thin education in Jewish history, all they can come up with is a science fiction story ... Iossel’s point is nothing so simple as stories will save us ... Here, stories’ salvific powers are highly contingent ... salvation must involve telling and hearing the stories that make us who we are. Stories like the ones in Love Like Water, Love Like Fire.
... most of these autofictional stories have no narrative arc and, while there is sometimes conflict, there is often no apparent resolution. They simply are, and they may leave the reader feeling deflated ... most lack any real emotional stakes. Their saving grace is that they illuminate much about Soviet society hidden from the West ... Throughout the collection, Iossel’s prose is often long-winded and choppy ... The title story in Love Like Water, Love Like Fire is definitely worth a read, maybe even two. The rest of the book, however, might best be described not as a collection of short stories so much as a fragmented look into everyday Soviet society — a way of life that few in the West have ever seen.