Book Review- They Lived They Were At Brighton Beach by Ivan Brave

They Lived They Were at Brighton Beach
Ivan Brave
Print Length: 325 pages
Simultaneous Device Usage: Unlimited
Publisher: Ivan Brave; 1 edition (June 16, 2020)
Publication Date: June 16, 2020
Sold by: Services LLC
Language: English



Loyal fans know him as a rising internet star and the resident DJ at one of Brooklyn’s sauciest nightclubs. But one blistering summer day, after relapsing, getting dumped, and winding up at the hospital, Ilya Gagarin awakes in a nightmare. The only way out, he figures, is to finally debut his EP, meaning, to realize a deeper dream.

The process of producing, together with the power of music and an urge to accept his past, is passionately described in his journal—while the larger story follows the weeks leading to his EP launch, his struggle to quit drugs, and his falling in love again to a guardian angel. It is she who teaches him, “Do you know how Russians say Once Upon a Time? Жили были. It translates to They Lived They Were.” Suggesting Ilya might just get his fairy tale ending. Or at least move on.

First off, I have to say that it’s been a long time since I’ve read such an intense  literary novel. I think the last one was Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five. It was nice to stretch myself beyond the mix of nonfiction, mainstream and genre fiction that I normally read.
Ilya is a fascinating character, and I did enjoy so much of his story. I could relate to things he struggled with, especially the fear and insecurity that was in control of his life. Each time he came close to making the decisions that would lead him to fulfilling his dream, and he didn’t, I wanted to do the mom-thing, “Ilya you doofus. Make the right choice.”

Referring to Ilya’s dream the author wrote, “It remained in his head as dreams often do, making all sorts of excuses for it.”

How many times have we left our dreams in our heads?

The story is presented in a mix of real and ethereal, as Ilya moves through phases of confidence and hope to deep despair. His diary entries, that make up part of the narrative, reflect those extremes, becoming longer and more erratic as the story progresses. Then we’re in real time again, following his attempts to get that album finished for the special release day.

Since the author is a musician, it’s not surprising that he chose to use music as a metaphor and a framework for the narrative, with each section of the novel presented in ways relating to musical structure. And it isn’t too far off the mark to suggest that all of our lives can be described in much the same way. We have an introduction to life, often have interludes that are either positives or negatives, and then, of course, the coda – the endgame.

I really liked meeting the mystery couple in brief glimpses in the overture and interludes, where the love of two elderly people was poignantly presented in barely a page of narrative at a time. So short, but so much reflected in words that made me feel like I knew those people completely.

While I liked so much about the book, when I reached what I thought was the end, I was left rather adrift. The story didn’t feel complete, and the ambiguity was difficult to see through. Maybe that was just me and my brain that is not functioning 100 percent right now, or maybe it was done purposefully so readers could imagine what comes next in Ilya’s life.  Regardless, this is a book to be enjoyed and to make one think, pondering all the nuances of the story. I highly recommend the read.


Iván Brave lives in Bucharest, Romania, where he writes poetry, reviews, and novels, as well as promotes language learning in multinational corporations. He graduated from The New School in NYC with an MFA in Creative Writing, after earning a Bachelor in Philosophy from The University of Texas at Austin. Language, multiculturalism, and love, or anything that connects, are the themes dearest to his heart. In addition to winning prizes, such as the Writing Award from The Vera List Center for Arts and Politics, his writings have appeared in literary publications like The American Scholar and The Acentos Review. Iván’s second novel, They Lived They Were at Brighton Beach, is out June 16th 2020.


Please come back on Wednesday, when Ivan will be my guest, answering questions about his book, his writing, and why he ended to book like he did.

If you’re interested in learning more musical terminology, visit this Glossary of Musical Terms. I got lost there for an entire hour, refreshing my memory of what musical wordage I used to know.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top
Scroll to Top