Pauls Toutonghi – Evel Knievel Days

Butte, Montana to Cairo, Egypt — in one great leap.

Other Novels

RED WEATHER

Published in 2006, Red Weather is a story about a young man with Latvian immigrant parents — growing up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

As Hannah Tinti (editor of One Story Magazine) says:

In Red Weather, Pauls Toutonghi introduces a wonderful new character to the world of fiction—Rudolfs Balodis—a hero, a thief, an ex-communist, an alcoholic, a janitor, a Latvian, a singer of the blues and above all else, a father. I laughed, I cried, I ate borscht.”

FOR REVIEWS OF RED WEATHER, CLICK HERE!

Or as Darin Strauss (Chang and Eng, The Real McCoy) writes:

“Pauls Toutonghi is such an original, it seems almost blasphemous to try comparing him to others, but here goes: Gary Shteyngart meets David Sedaris meets Frank McCourt. In other words, he’s whipsmart and hilarious and Red Weather is a guaranteed knockout.”

Or Adam Langer (Crossing California, The Washington Story):

“Pauls Toutonghi’s humor is imbued with a rare generosity of spirit. And, with his debut novel, he has written a moving and entertaining love letter to youth, to family, to his heritage, and, perhaps most important, to Milwaukee, a city that is woefully underrepresented in contemporary fiction.”

Or Ken Kalfus (Thirst, PU-239, The Commisariat of Enlightenment):

“Pauls Toutonghi’s vibrant first novel, lyrical and rich in human insight, celebrates the essential experience of the first-generation American — whose struggle for full nativeness is always joined within the dizzying, tragic and exuberant campaign to become an adult.”

Reviews of Red Weather have apeared across the country (and the world). The Moscow Times, The Cleveland Plain Dealer, The Miami Herald, The Sacramento Bee, the San Diego Reader, the Chicago Tribune, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel… all have printed favorable reviews.

Booklist called Red Weather a, “first novel of uncommon poise and power.”

Here are some excerpts:

From The Cleveland Plain Dealer

If I could stand in the Cuyahoga County juvenile courthouse and give one book to each of the more than 8,000 youngsters commanded to appear each year, it would be “Red Weather.” Not because this is a young adult novel – it’s not – but because it tells a wry, cant-free story of a boy who gets drunk, breaks the law, does significant damage and, bit by bit, finds a unique way to square things…

…much of “Red Weather,” rolls along with a David Sedaris-flavored drollness; it’s a flat-out pleasure to read. Writer Pauls Toutonghi has a wonderful ear for the stilted musicality of those new arrivals who strain at English…

*

From Pages Magazine

He’s young (30), he’s hot (snaring the Boston Review ‘s short-story competition, the Pushcart Prize, and Zoetrope ‘s first annual short fiction prize), he’s multicultural (Egyptian father, Latvian mother). Pauls Toutonghi brings all this and more to bear in his debut novel, Red Weather (Shaye Areheart Books/Crown).

*

From BookPage Magazine

A gritty urban Milwaukee neighborhood in 1989 hardly seems like a compelling locale for a rich and heartwarming coming-of-age story, but Pauls Toutonghi’s debut novel will persuade skeptical readers they’re dead wrong on that score.

… Even at this early stage of his career, Toutonghi’s an accomplished prose craftsman who’s won a Pushcart Prize and a Zoetrope: All Story contest. He is as adept at painting riotously comic scenes as he is at sketching tender portraits of intimate family relationships. But Toutonghi possesses a special gift for mapping out the emotional territory in which the battles between fathers and sons are fought, in this case to a loving truce. In the end, that’s what gives this warm and generous novel its well-earned appeal.

*

From The Moscow Times

In Pauls Toutonghi’s moving debut novel, “Red Weather,” 16-year-old Yuri Balodis — “gangly, awkward, and sprinkled with acne” — comes of age in Milwaukee just as the Soviet Union begins to crumble. Yuri, the son of Latvian immigrants, has a father who is a bourbon-swilling night janitor for a car dealership and a mother who calls upon her wily Soviet roots to extract herring from the surliest of Polish storekeepers. During the day, Yuri is a reluctant student at nearby Alexander Hamilton High School; by night, he awakens to his own political and sexual impulses, to his longings for transgression.

*

From The San Francisco Chronicle

“Red Weather” is a warm tale of a father-son relationship…

*

From TIME OUT New York

Time Out New York / Issue 553: May 4–10, 2006

By Caroline McCloskey

Toutonghi’s unflinching and hilarious account summons all the tormented urgency of one’s high-school years, when everything feels so fraught with meaning because it actually is…

…Toutonghi, himself a first-generation American, renders the family’s Soviet-inflected speech and mannerisms with wit and sensitivity, and his ear for unusual locu-tion is used to comedic effect without lapsing into condescension.

But you don’t have to be familiar with Latvia under Soviet reign or Milwaukee in 1989 to feel simultaneously wrecked and elevated by Yuri’s recollections. Red Weather tells a fairly universal story, resurrecting the impulsive decisions, irreparable mistakes and exhila-rating highs of adolescence—all instantly recognizable to anyone who’s survived it.

*

From The Watermark Books Newsletter

By Beth Golay

Every so often, I read a book that is so well written, I become a little
afraid to review it, afraid that my description will be too meager,
inadequate. and ultimately embarrassing. So it is with a feeling of
unworthiness and trepidation that I begin this review.

“Red Weather” is the debut novel by Pauls Toutonghi, a first-generation
American whose amazing writing makes this read more like a memoir than
fiction…

…Its writing and humor make this book stand out. Toutonghi has an impressive
command of the English language. His complex prose flows so effortlessly,
it’s a joy to read. His description of Yuri’s parents and their
Latvian-accented English are easy to imagine. The humor really seeps in when
Yuri describes his father’s verbal skills. At one point, the Balodis family
goes to the airport to pick up cousins from Latvia. There’s a delay at the
gate, so Yuri’s father asks, “What is happening?” To this, Yuri reflects:
“Someday, I told myself, I would gently convince him that there was nothing
wrong with the apostrophe.”

There are so many other points where I found myself chuckling, smirking, or
– believe it or not – flat-out laughing. But this story is much deeper than
the humor, and I often found myself reading with a furrowed brow – cringing,
tearing, or gasping aloud. “Red Weather” is truly an extraordinary book, and
I hope that you give it a chance despite this reviewer’s ramblings.

*

From Booklist

It’s 1989 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Yuri Balodis, the shy son of Latvian immigrants, leads a quiet existence, experiencing the world through books. But a desire to do something, anything–and a chance encounter with pretty student Hannah Graham–leads him to join a newspaper-selling socialist group led by Hannah’s father. The Grahams are privileged people for whom socialism is a theory. Yuri’s parents fled Latvia in a shipping container full of hogs after suffering under communism. Yuri isn’t sure what he believes in. But in a few short weeks, he falls in love, meets long-lost family, and commits an impulsive act that will have echoing repercussions, learning a lot in the process. Pushcart Prize winner Toutonghi (himself the Latvian-Egyptian son of immigrants) writes with an assured hand and a quirky, wry sense of humor. Yuri and his small family–especially Yuri’s alcoholic, country-and-western-loving father–are memorable and lovingly drawn. The ending goes on too long, and a late, surprising sexual awakening feels unnecessary, but this is a first novel of uncommon poise and power.

*
From Publisher’s Weekly

Toutonghi’s tragicomic debut novel paints a loving, cockeyed picture of the Soviet immigrant experience in the twilight of the Cold War… Toutonghi’s carefully observed character details, evocation of working-class Milwaukee and tales of the old country effectively walk the line between realism and absurdity.

*

From The New York Times

Hidden within this coming-of-age story is a tender, sad portrait of Yuri’s alcoholic father, Rudolfs Balodis, who dreams of being a country-and-western singer and works nights as a janitor at a car dealership. Rudolfs carries the very real scars of his own youthful rebellion — two fingers and the thumb missing from his left hand, chopped off by the Latvian secret police — and in a lovely scene he takes Yuri on a “drunken midnight field trip” in which they steal a watermelon-red Corvette and go for a joy ride to the accompaniment of “Moon Mullican, the King of the Hillbilly Piano.”

Rudolfs’s sense of magic and his sense of humor save the novel. On Halloween, he dresses up as Stalin (“Is the scariest thing I could think of”) and he crashes noisily through this assemblage of pastiches. Rudolfs is a full character, awash with contradictory desires: wistful for yet furious at his motherland, and in love with the adopted country he so clearly sees has abused him.

The stunningly quiet ending reverberates back through the whole book, throwing fresh light on both its weaknesses and its real ambition. The final dated section takes place on Friday, May 4, 1990; although Toutonghi never mentions it, that was the day the Supreme Soviet Council announced the restoration of Latvian independence. This correlation goes unremarked by the characters. But in ending his novel on this day, Toutonghi silently allows Yuri to disown his ideological posturing, and reconciles the politics of the father with those of the son. It’s a touching act of homage from a novelist who is foolish and brave enough to sacrifice his own prospects of writing an original novel for the greater good of a love letter to his father.

*

From Nancy Pearl and KUOW

…Toutonghi comes through in style with this novel about a family from Latvia who resettles in Milwaukee at the end of the Cold War. When the shy and quiet 15-year-old Yuri falls in love with one of his classmates, it sets him on a collision course with his father, and leads to some shocking events that will force Yuri to see just how much he and his father care for another. The character who will remain in your mind long after the book is over is Yuri’s father – a janitor at a car dealership who drinks to excess, and more, loves country and western music, and coexists uneasily with the secrets in his past. There are first novel problems here – plot lines left undeveloped, a subplot involving Yuri and his cousin that seems to have been intended for another novel altogether, but Toutonghi’s writing is graceful and his ability to create three-dimensional characters is undeniable. I certainly look forward to reading his second novel.

*

From The Christian Science Monitor

…Toutonghi excels at a dry, sly wit that packs a soft, droll punch. His characters have dimension and they even manage to gently convey some of the confusion and displacement of the immigrant experience.

Red Weather is a sweet and entertaining read. It could perhaps be described as the chick-lit rewrite of a Latvian-American version of “Catcher in the Rye” – a combination as offbeat and earnestly comic as the Balodis themselves.

*

From The Seattle Times

Toutonghi’s debut novel offers unclouded observations into the Latvian immigration experience… “Red Weather” is a lightning rod of captivating humor, colorful characters and well-crafted prose. Make this your rainy-day book.

*

From Library Journal

Toutonghi’s debut would make a good book club selection and may appeal to readers who enjoy Gary Shteyngart’s novels. Recommended for collections that can include some quirky, out-of-the-mainstream fiction.

*

From The Chicago Tribune

By Alan Cheuse

The relationship between fathers and sons is a motif much honored in the West by writers from James Joyce on, and one to which Russian Ivan Turgenev had given something of a political cast. In truth, there’s always a mixture of the personal and the political in a novel that pits one generation against another.

In Pauls Toutonghi’s nicely etched story about the education of a first-generation Latvian-American in beer-soaked, bourbon-filled, working-class Milwaukee in autumn 1989, teenage narrator Yuri Balodis takes up the cudgel of the upstart generation. His father, roughly but lovingly depicted Rudolfi Balodis, stands up (and more often than not takes a drink of bourbon and sits down, or lies down, or eventually falls down) for the older way of life.

When we first meet Rudolfi he seems to be nothing more than a hard-working, hard-drinking, sentiment-spouting refugee from Eastern Europe. But because of Toutonghi’s cunning representation, we eventually see him both as the man his son believes him to be and as a character who has within himself the same possibilities for heroism that led him (with his wife) to escape Iron Curtain life. Quite a lovely technical feat for a first-time novelist–and Rudolfi is quite a memorable character. If this was all the book accomplished, it would have been enough for a reader to give it some attention.

But Yuri’s story about himself and his father renders in a particularly appealing and interesting way the old template of young versus old. The plot seems necessary rather than contrived, and though it is slow to unfold, the book never tries the reader’s patience. This is largely because of the clarity of Toutonghi’s prose and the distinctness of Yuri’s observations, beginning with those of Milwaukee at night. “I walked in the middle of the sidewalk,” Yuri tells us after he has sneaked out of the family’s factory-district apartment as he is wont to do, so late at night it’s nearly the edge of morning, “observing the shadows of objects and buildings, listening for the distant hum of the awakening city. The sidewalks were broad. Awnings hung down from every facade. The city felt like a gelatin silver print, black and white and a little mysterious.”

Yuri is just as sharply observant in daytime, as in his description of “a beautiful, clear day on Lake Michigan,” when, “if there’s been a recent rain and the air is relatively free of smog . . . the water of the lake can give you the sensation of endless life. It offers you this sensation just for looking, just for considering its body, its aquatic span, which vanishes into the distant horizon. On clear mornings in the spring, I’d often stand on any one of the numerous concrete piers of downtown Milwaukee and just look into the watery distance. It gave me a sensation of smallness, of insignificance, a sensation that would simultaneously scare me and also make me feel fully alive and sad.”

But that’s spring. For most of novel, sensitive young Yuri suffers in the autumn of his discontent, running the gamut of new emotions–from infatuation to bravado to rebellion to contrition–as he falls in love at first sight with one of his schoolmates, the daughter of a local college professor and dedicated socialist; goes behind his hard-working father’s back and commits a foolhardy felony; and suffers the consequences, nearly losing his father and his own freedom in the aftermath.

The more Yuri suffers, the more engrossing the book becomes, as he deals with his emotions and those of his father, his dutiful mother and his visiting relatives from Latvia (among whom is his cousin Eriks, who contributes to Yuri’s education in a most surprising way). And the more Yuri suffers, the more lyrical the book becomes, with sentences that suggest a serious and gifted new writer at work–the kind of “[p]erfect, precise sentences” that Yuri himself revels in when, in his misery and solitude, he shuts himself off from the family and lets his reading pour over his head, sentences “that sang and resonated and rang with the solace that only well-structured language could provide.”

That’s mostly what we get in this bittersweet love letter to a father and a city. It’s prose fiction that might just make Milwaukee famous again.

*

From The Oregonian

The launch date of Pauls Toutonghi’s debut novel, “Red Weather,” and book tour found the Brooklyn author at Pix Patisserie on Southeast Division Street for the dessert shop’s first literary reading.

Toutonghi sat in a red wooden chair, his back to the storefront window and rained-out sidewalk seating, apologizing into a microphone for what promised to be a bad Russian accent. He wore a blue, fitted Milwaukee Brewers baseball cap with “1989” stitched on the back — an unremarkable season (81-81) for the club but appropriately enough the year and city in which “Red Weather” takes place.

Fifteen or so Pix patrons, including author Charles D’Ambrosio, hunkered around tables tall and small, listening while consuming exotic and involved desserts and beers. The reading continued and the plot thickened. Soon enough, a Latvian father woke his 15-year-old son in the middle of the night to tell him (in a bad Baltic accent), “I’m not only good for nothing,” before the two embarked on an expedition to a local car dealership for a stolen ride in an “overly hormonal” ’89 red Corvette.

5 comments on “Other Novels

  1. Sveiks! I was teaching at Kursa when I think I met you and your mom. I too am now a writer, and I too was recently in a Ph.D. program in English (at Wayne State University in Detroit Michigan). I have no desire to exploit your current fame, but if I can help with reviews or anything in Latvian circles, please let me know.

    Best to you! Blessings!

    Macitajs Edgars Petrevics

  2. shimano xt
    August 17, 2009

    Interesting information. I didn’t know that and thanks for bringing me up to speed. I will check back more often.

  3. Patrick Wall
    November 26, 2009

    Hi Paul,

    Enjoyed the book. I am a huge fan of Moon Mullican and all that type of music and sing and play this all the time although I was not born the time this music was first out. The character (Rudolphs) in the book reminds me of myself musically at least!

    It is great to see the music and its impact discussed into world events. I know lots of people from Iran, etc. who love Moon Mullican and so on (the monarchists will like his “Hey Shah” song!) and say that it forms the same escapism from islamic communism gone corrupt and also in countries like my own where capitalism has failed as well.

    • paulstoutonghi
      November 30, 2009

      Hi, Patrick!

      Thanks for the comments! I’m glad that others share the love for that music — hopefully it will stay alive, as time moves forward.
      Thanks for reading the book!

      All the best,

      Pauls

  4. Susanne
    December 7, 2009

    Hi Pauls,

    I just read your book – I LOVE it! I enjoyed reading, of course, but above all, I am really touched. How you describe Rudolfs, indescribable beautiful! I did not meet very often this way of writing, of drawing characters. Fortunately, the speech of Yuri’s parents was translated into German very well. Nevertheless, your next book I should read in English …
    As you see, I am German, East-German. 1989, I was 19 – so, I grew up with “German- Soviet friendship”, am a bit familiar and amorous with this culture(s). And, naturally, I know socialist systems as well as people leaving with so much hope but failing …
    It’s long ago that a book (or film) spoke to my heart in the way as you with your book – thank you!

    All the best!

    Susanne

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