One More Year by Sana Krasikov

a nutshell: this debut collection holds eight stories of immigrants scattered across challenging circumstances, hailing from the no-longer Soviet Empire

a line: “To her, friendship still meant coming face-to-face with another’s unmediated existence”

an image: a woman knows she’d have to overcome the urge to look for her ex-partner, like a gaunt animal migrating uphill before a flash flood without quite knowing why

a thought: at one point Krasikov writes that a character knew anyone could be fearless as long as there was no other option, which struck a chord

a fact: for a month between homes Krasikov slept in one of the ‘war rooms’ at a law firm where she worked, which had a decisive impact on her becoming a writer – writing is all about finding a place for personal freedom in the public sphere, she says

want to read One More Year? visit here

An Orange Lemon by Alla Pyatibratova (tr. Rohan Kamicheril)

orange lemon

a nutshell: this short story from Kyrgyzstan follows an out-of-work hydrologist and mother, Maria, who spends tiring & uninspiring days undertaking paid protest in a square

a line: “From the first day, Maria had promised herself that she wouldn’t buy into the rules of the game; that she would only try to abide by them. Even if it was a game for fools.”

an image: at one point Maria looks at the square and can see only a live, shifting, varicolored mass, surrounded like a force field by a thick wall of sound – colour is important to the narrative (there are 11 mentions of yellow, the colour worn by the protestors on this particular day) as Maria struggles to keep up with the changing significance of certain colours

a thought: it felt like Maria was losing her awareness of what was going on not just externally but also internally  – early on she doesn’t notice that her sleeve is torn and her arm is bruised, and pauses to wonder how she could’ve hurt her arm yet not felt it –  which seemed to stem from protesting out of desperation for a paycheck

a fact: Pyatibratova is a journalist based in Osh – near the border with Uzbekistan, this city has over 3,000 years of history, incl. having been a major market along the Silk Road; in 1990 and 2010, the city has seen ethnic riots & violence break out

want to read An Orange Lemon? visit here

Death Customs by Constantia Soteriou (tr. Lina Protopapa)

a nutshell: this is a mystical, soulful dialogue (of sorts) between a chorus of women’s voices and a widow narrating what it was like to await the return of men – dead or alive – who fought in the conflict that followed the 1974 coup d’état

a line: “Tell me, Spasoula, are there people who are forever lost? People nobody will ever find? And how are they going to call the lost that are lost? Are there words to describe the lost who will not be found?”

an image: the author reimagine the mass burials that saw Turkish and Greek men buried on top of one another them as ultimately kindling friendship – when the rains inevitably came, they filled the wells and gathered the bones together in harmony

a thought: despite the agony of abandonment and grief, the narrator ends with a tacit call for reconciliation and solidarity between the women who waited – whatever their background; I found this story fascinating, especially the way in which Soteriou weaved in so many Cypriot folklore/rituals around birth and death

a fact: this story (deservedly!) won the 2019 Commonwealth Short Story Prize

want to read Death Customs? visit here

Southpaw by Lisa St Aubin de Terán

Southpaw book by ivy plant

a nutshell: written over 25 years, these dogged short stories of dispossessed individuals are set first on or around the Hacienda Santa Rita (a sugar plantation in the Venezuelan Andes) then in Umbria, Italy – two places where the author chanced to live

a line: “Life took longer to live in the wet weather”

an image: SPOILER | for me, ‘Eladio and the Boy’ was an especially moving story – I found myself genuinely upset by the scene of inexplicable loss when Eladio’s quiet friendship with a pair of eagles is shattered by human intrusion & violence

a thought: I looked up the definition of southpaw: (1) a boxer whose strongest hand is the left (2) a person who uses their left hand to do most things – which I assume alludes to the stories’ contexts of South America and southern Italy, as well as the narratives of eccentricity (since left-handedness was historically perceived as such) and the characters’ ability both to receive and to administer blows

a fact: in the intro, the writer openly labels herself an “alien observer” in these communities; in the absence of anywhere specific to call home, she says she found an “emotional home in other people’s roots”

want to read Southpaw? visit here

Soweto Stories by Miriam Tlali

a nutshell: this 1989 short story collection casts a unique light on Sowetans – mostly women – persevering within a cruel landscape of apartheid and patriarchy

a line“It was a strong, stoic and steadfast face which, to both her children, never seemed to yield to the vicissitudes of life and the inevitable hazards of ageing.”

an image: in one of the perennially congested train carriages into which black South Africans were forced, a woman clenches as a man probes her thighs – her screams unheard in the noisy, suffocating compartment; on arrival she is “too hurt, too shamefully abused, to speak” (gender-based violence runs throughout Tlali’s fiction)

a thought: at first I found the style challenging – e.g. Tlali often dips into other languages (which I worked out were Sesotho and Afrikaans, maybe among others) not necessarily with translation, and many English words are punctuated ‘like this’ – but after a while I came to appreciate how she kept her world alive in this distinct way

a fact: the first black South African woman to publish a novel (Muriel at Metropolitan / Between Two Worlds, 1975), most of Tlali’s writing was originally banned by the South African apartheid regime and she endured years of harassment by police for her work

 

want to read Soweto Stories? visit here