Friday, August 10, 2007

There are Jews in My House

"There are Jews in My House." The title of this short story (and collection) by Lara Vapnyar immediately caught my attention. And when I discovered Vapnyar is an expatriate Russian writer, I had to bite.

This story is brutal in its honesty—uncomfortably brutal. Yet, it reminded me very much of living in Eastern Europe. Strangers, as well as close friends, never seemed hesitant to comment on my appearance or behavior. As an American, so accustomed to white lies and tact, I found this honesty difficult to adjust to.

In the story, Galina and Raya are best friends. They work together as librarians, and Raya is completely open with Galina about her feelings: she does not love her husband, doubts her love for her daughter, and conducts an affair with library patron.

Galina begins to resent Raya for this openness. Yet, the reader is privy to Galina’s own internal struggle: she hates her drunken husband, despises the sound of her sleeping daughter, and is jealous of Raya’s wealth and popularity.

As the Germans invade Russia, Galina invites Raya and her daughter, who are of Jewish decent, to hide in her apartment. Their cohabitation, however, is strained, and Galina’s resentment towards Raya increases.

Galina’s feelings are disturbing. She seems overwhelmed by anger and bitterness. At times, she even wishes the deaths of those close to her.

I was repelled by this honesty. I was disgusted by Galina's feelings. Yet, when I examine my own internal dialogue, could I honestly say I have never experienced similar feelings? Have I never been angry, jealous, and resentful?

I could admit to many feelings that would make my family and friends cringe (e.g., my strong revulsion towards a neighborhood child), but I will spare us all the embarrassment and discomfort of an extended confession.

Americans simply are not comfortable with or ready for such honesty, such lack of tact. And I am not prepared, nor advocating, for us to change.


Wanna-Be Lit said...

Frankly, I like American "white lies." Europeans may say otherwise, but I see it as kindness and politeness. At least I pretend those are the motives behind it.

notaconnoisseur said...

I think there is a lot of difference between having dark negative feelings that creep into your soul and are bannished because they cause you to feel uncomfortable than to have those same feelings fill your life and heart to the point where they color your world. I remember going to England one time and sitting on the train 'chatting' with some British traveling companions. After listening to their criticism and their negative comments for awhile, I concluded that the difference between me and these Brits was that we were descendents from the same people, but my ancestors saw hope for the future and went to America. These negative people's ancestors had stayed in their class society and grumbled.