Challenging, contemporary short stories with sharp feminist commentary, translated from Georgian. 

Kordzaia possesses such dexterity with tone and structure that the book’s 22 tales feel like raunchy, visceral oral history cloaked in an array of fictional forms. The collection begins with the long, somewhat confusing title story about generations of women looking back at personal and national history, giving birth, grieving husbands who’ve disappeared during wartime, by turns angry or in awe of fate. The story’s breadth frames the range of women’s voices that follow. They live in mostly urban places, usually Tblisi, in vague yet hard circumstances, surviving bad relationships, raising children with little support, often at each other’s throats just before waxing poetic about life. In “A Foreign Man,” a painting triggers memories of past love in a series of anecdotes about bygone parties and art openings with friends drinking, flirting, sleeping on balconies—a paean to the sweet taste of regret. Many stories are monologues with fine twists, equal parts comedy and pathos. The dialogue rivals Beckett (“There, In the North”) for existential hilarity, and in cooler moments, the prose is reminiscent of Jean Rhys. In “It’s Raining,” an unnamed narrator’s experience is rendered timeless as her tales of love gone wrong lead to an act of violence and a coda from a mental hospital: “I am waiting for the time when I’ll become embittered.” Dependence on men tends to lead to despair, the violence of a passionate affair akin to war, with those who’ve survived questioning their methods and self-worths. As one supposedly happy woman is asked by a depressed friend in “An Insignificant Story of a Failed Suicide,” “If I live a long and happy life, does that mean I’ll be sent straight to heaven?” Not all gems but essential reading in a sterling translation from a country little heard from in English-speaking countries.

Pub Date: Feb. 17, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-56478-875-7

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Dalkey Archive

Review Posted Online: Dec. 7, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2014

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It's being called a novel, but it is more a hybrid: short-stories/essays/confessions about the Vietnam War—the subject that O'Brien reasonably comes back to with every book. Some of these stories/memoirs are very good in their starkness and factualness: the title piece, about what a foot soldier actually has on him (weights included) at any given time, lends a palpability that makes the emotional freight (fear, horror, guilt) correspond superbly. Maybe the most moving piece here is "On The Rainy River," about a draftee's ambivalence about going, and how he decided to go: "I would go to war—I would kill and maybe die—because I was embarrassed not to." But so much else is so structurally coy that real effects are muted and disadvantaged: O'Brien is writing a book more about earnestness than about war, and the peekaboos of this isn't really me but of course it truly is serve no true purpose. They make this an annoyingly arty book, hiding more than not behind Hemingwayesque time-signatures and puerile repetitions about war (and memory and everything else, for that matter) being hell and heaven both. A disappointment.

Pub Date: March 28, 1990

ISBN: 0618706410

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Oct. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1990

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Told through the points of view of the four Garcia sisters- Carla, Sandi, Yolanda and Sofia-this perceptive first novel by poet Alvarez tells of a wealthy family exiled from the Dominican Republic after a failed coup, and how the daughters come of age, weathering the cultural and class transitions from privileged Dominicans to New York Hispanic immigrants. Brought up under strict social mores, the move to the States provides the girls a welcome escape from the pampered, overbearingly protective society in which they were raised, although subjecting them to other types of discrimination. Each rises to the challenge in her own way, as do their parents, Mami (Laura) and Papi (Carlos). The novel unfolds back through time, a complete picture accruing gradually as a series of stories recounts various incidents, beginning with ``Antojos'' (roughly translated ``cravings''), about Yolanda's return to the island after an absence of five years. Against the advice of her relatives, who fear for the safety of a young woman traveling the countryside alone, Yolanda heads out in a borrowed car in pursuit of some guavas and returns with a renewed understanding of stringent class differences. ``The Kiss,'' one of Sofia's stories, tells how she, married against her father's wishes, tries to keep family ties open by visiting yearly on her father's birthday with her young son. And in ``Trespass,'' Carla finds herself the victim of ignorance and prejudice a year after the Garcias have arrived in America, culminating with a pervert trying to lure her into his car. In perhaps one of the most deft and magical stories, ``Still Lives,'' young Sandi has an extraordinary first art lesson and becomes the inspiration for a statue of the Virgin: ``Dona Charito took the lot of us native children in hand Saturday mornings nine to twelve to put Art into us like Jesus into the heathen.'' The tradition and safety of the Old World are just part of the tradeoff that comes with the freedom and choice in the New. Alvarez manages to bring to attention many of the issues-serious and light-that immigrant families face, portraying them with sensitivity and, at times, an enjoyable, mischievous sense.

Pub Date: May 1, 1991

ISBN: 0-945575-57-2

Page Count: 308

Publisher: Algonquin

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 1991

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