Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Short Stories

Predictably, I stayed up way too late last night finishing Shopaholic & Sister. I now remember why I felt compelled to read every book in the series (okay, I do have one more to go). Despite her enormous faults, and they are enormous, Becky Bloomwood somehow redeems herself at the end of each novel. This redemption apparently gives me amnesia, and I forget all the pain of slogging through the calamities of the book's middle section. But I won't prattle on and on about Shopaholic like a twat.

I’m now reading a collection of short stories called A Hunger Most Cruel. I stumbled on it while researching my genocide paper. The book is a collection of short stories, translated into English, about the Ukrainian Holodomor—a Stalinist manmade famine that killed an estimated 7-10 million people.

I am particularly intrigued by Olena Zvychayna’s short stories. The characters in "Socialist Potatoes" must sort through piles of rotten potatoes and grains while millions go hungry; Hanna of "'Lucky' Hanna" abandons her daughter in hopes she will be fed in an orphanage only to discover she has been discarded by the government as easily as the dead bodies that litter the streets. The topics are grim, yet Zbychayna’s writing is subtle and understated.

I am not much of a short story reader. There seems to be something so heavy—so literary—about a short story; each word has to count for a dozen. As such, my short story experience is limited, but here are a few collections I’ve recently read:

  • The Red Passport: Stories - Katherine Shonk’s short stories—mostly told from an American perspective—take place in post-Communist Russia. I was particularly struck by the story "Our American" as two young Russian men fall in love with an American girl—or, rather, they fall in love with the possibility of her rescuing them from the desperation of their current circumstances. The authenticity of this story is resounding; I couldn’t stop thinking about it for days. I even reread the story—something I rarely do.
  • When Luba Leaves Home: Stories and Natasha and Other Stories - I lump these two together because they have similar themes. Bezmogis’s protagonist in Natasha is a young Latvian immigrant to Canada. Luba is the daughter of Ukrainian immigrants in Chicago. In each book, the characters cope with balancing “old world” tradition and family responsibility with living in North America. Although I admit to an Eastern European bias in much of my pleasure reading, these books have a larger appeal as the multicultural experience is quickly becoming the norm in the United States.
  • Interpreter of Maladies - If you have not read this Pulitzer Prize-winning short story collection, do it. Now. Jhumpa Lahiri’s stories also explore the multicultural experience; they take place in two often overlapping worlds of the East and West. I was particularly drawn to "Mrs. Sen" who deals with loneliness and culture shock after moving to the United States for her husband’s work. There is a grace in Lahiri’s writing and a truth to her stories. (As a side note, I was terribly disappointed by Lahiri’s follow up, The Namesake. The book is equally as well written as Interpreter, but perhaps Lahiri set my expectations so high I couldn’t help but be disappointed.)


Wanna-Be Lit said...

These books all sound intriguing. Most intriguing is that you recommeded reading a book NOW. I've already added it to my "to read" list, which is unfortunately growing longer without any "withdrawals" from it.

Blogger said...

Fortunately, I have a copy of Maladies for anyone who'd like to borrow it . . . I just hope you aren't disappointed by my hype.