They Lived They Were At Brighton Beach (2020) – Ivan Brave

Title:They Lived They Were At Brighton Beach
Author:Ivan Brave
Date published:2020
Publisher:Independently Published
Star Rating:⭐⭐⭐⭐
Disclaimer:The author Ivan Brave sent a copy of his novel to me in exchange for an honest review

Meet Ilya Nikolayevich Gagarin, a 22 year old DJ who is doing really well on YouTube, but not so much anywhere else. He has a gig at a local (and rather sleazy ) nightclub called Zdras three times a week and which has recently been knocked down to only twice a week to make way for newer talent. In the opening scene of the novel Ilya collapses at a set on Brighton Beach after being dumped unceremoniously by his musician girlfriend Stacey. Stacey Giacometti has managed to surpass Ilya and even has a record deal, whilst Ilya is struggling to finish his first EP. On that hot day in Brooklyn the Russian American DJ faints and wakes up at his apartment that he shares with a female friend, Tiffany, sans his equipment.

Back at Zdras Ilya is struggling to get his boss and the owner of the club, Tony (who has a drug problem and a very young and equally drug-addled wife) to give him a particular night to launch his EP. He claims he wants to launch it on his father’s birthday, but it is in fact his mother’s birthday who abandoned Ilya and his brother when he was 4 and his brother 11 on the streets of New York. This event has haunted the DJ his whole life, and for years he struggled with an addiction to cocaine and restless leg syndrome. After his mother disappeared all those years ago after taking her sons out for ice-cream on a winter’s day, it was his father, a college professor, who taught Ilya to love music. Despite all of this our protagonist is really just trying to win Stacey back but he never reveals this as his real reason for wanting to launch his album.

As Ilya grapples with his past, and works through his struggles with addiction, he meets an older woman, Julia, sitting alone at a local cafe on Brighton Beach eating a slice of cake. They strike up a conversation and over time develop a relationship. Between Julia, an ageing enigma of a DJ that works the late shift at Zdras and his friend Tiffany (who seems to have a new man in her bed every night but is also determined to learn the recipes of her home country of Romania) Ilya is not completely drifting in a world without supportive people, but he doesn’t often feel that way. Between his constant clashes with the club’s promoter, and his own failings to always please the masses with his music, he is also haunted by his mother’s disappearance and the rift this has created between himself and his father and older brother.

Brave’s novel is unique in that not only does it give the reader a detailed insider’s glance into the world of electronic DJs and the process of making music in a studio surrounded by people who make Ilya’s recovery very challenging, but it is also a very accurate social commentary on social media and this generation’s obsession with a very different kind of validation – the like; the follow; the subscribe and the view. There is not one moment in the novel that the reader is not convinced of Ilya’s love and passion for music – there are several references to not only up and coming artists in the EDM sphere, as well as pop and rock n’ roll music that have clearly influenced his own music. Brave also includes several pop culture references, music lyrics and poetry throughout the novel that I particularly appreciated and which also gives the simple story of a struggling musician a more universal reach – everything in fact is connected.

Another notable technique is the stream-of-consciousness writing that Brave accompanies with general observations through the point of view of an older couple that seem to be telling Ilya’s story. When the reader is experiencing the unknown couple’s conversations there is even possibly a hint of magic realism thrown in there giving the novel an element of a narrative within a narrative. This is also juxtaposed with countless footnotes (and lovenotes) that keep the Russian spoken intermittently throughout the novel relevant and didactic in nature, and in a fun and playful way.

They Lived They Were At Brighton Beach is phenomenal for it’s refusal to bend to the construct of how we read novels. With it’s multitude of voices and stories and its overall love of music and the people that make it, it is also fair to say that as an urban love story it’s not solely about the love between people but the love between people and the music that fills their waking hours, and even their dreams.

2 thoughts on “They Lived They Were At Brighton Beach (2020) – Ivan Brave”

  1. Great review, Meg! This sounds like something I’d also read. I can’t resist a novel with music references.


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