Albanian-American author Hakani presents a trio of heartfelt, interconnected tales about Albanian women.
The author’s first published book in English evocatively reinterprets the sentimental memories of an old family acquaintance and gifted storyteller. Among the women in her family, Hakani says, this elderly woman represented “the times we did not have a chance to live through, the times we looked back at in awe, admiration, and wonder.” The title novella, the most impressive of the group, uses rich, atmospheric detail to recount the lives of an Albanian mother and daughter-in-law, who deal with both the hardships and pleasures of an orthodox, pastoral life. In it, Mariana, a strikingly beautiful woman in the village of Kalasa, lives in an orange grove that she adores. But she finds her life becoming increasingly complicated when her son immigrates alone to America, leaving his own wife, Ana, behind to live with Mariana. After Ana is raped and bears the rapist’s child, the textured, nuanced story becomes a whirlwind of betrayal, misguided passion, obsession, and moral quandary. “Rina” tells of a young widow-turned-seductress who has alluring powers over the village men and of the tragedy and mystery of her death. The final story, “The Awakening,” follows an unlikely friendship between an orphaned, mentally retarded man and a local village woman, for whom he provides farming and caregiving help. Together, they transcend the cruelty of societal limitations to become lovers and life partners, much to the shock and chagrin of the critical villagers. Collectively, Hakani’s profound stories deliver an uplifting, cohesive reading experience filled with intrigue and melodrama, drawing on themes of feminine empowerment and resilience.
A moving, resonant collection of stories that honors its characters’ struggles and passions.