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VAQUITA by Edith Pearlman

VAQUITA

and Other Stories

By Edith Pearlman

Pub Date: Nov. 14th, 1996
ISBN: 0-8229-3962-2
Publisher: Univ. of Pittsburgh

 This year's Drue Heinz Awardwinner collects 15 stories, many of which have been published in literary magazines. Most of these elegantly written pieces concern privileged protagonists who eventually discover ``the harsh light of this world.'' Pearlman's doctors, professors, and patricians all must confront, in varying ways, the indignities of illness or old age. In the title story, a Holocaust survivor, now a prominent government minister in a Latin American country, ponders her future as the country undergoes violent political change. In ``The Cook,'' an American-born dwarf who cares for abandoned children in a repressive Latin country must confront the possibility that the government is using these kids to harvest organs. Less dramatically, the American Jewish grandfather in ``To Reach This Season'' travels to Central America to meet the young native boy his homosexual son is adopting. A fine quartet of related pieces focus on Donna, a genteel, ``drab Christian'' who runs a soup kitchen for women. We follow her courtship by Raphael, a Jewish psychiatrist who doesn't fully appreciate Donna's charitable impulses. Donna discovers her own ambiguous feelings about the poor in ``Dorothea,'' but eventually she and Raphael (who's come to value Donna's work) hold their wedding at the soup kitchen. The elderly historian in ``Cavalier'' will not go gentle into that good night, until a female attendant encourages him to tell her stories based on his area of expertise. The retired schoolteacher in ``Settlers,'' who lives on the edges of other people's lives, finds his happy old age harshly altered. While a young doctor recuperates on Cape Cold from cancer in ``The Noncombatant,'' he must deal with the exuberance of all around him as WW II comes to an end. Clearly, the play of conflicting passions animates Pearlman's fictive imagination. And two fabulistic pieces--one about a professional letter writer--further testify to her belief in redemptive art. A solid debut from a writer worth keeping an eye on.