THE UNAMERICANS by Molly Antopol

Book Quote:

“I wondered how the wife I had known when Daniela was first born— the quiet, sunken woman who read the Czech newspapers in the library every morning and then wrote long letters to her mother in Prague,  letters Katka had known would be swallowed by security— could have become this confident voice on the line.”

Book Review:

Review by Jill I. Shtulman  (FEB 21, 2014)

A title such as The UnAmericans begs this question: what is an American? Or more specifically, what is an unAmerican in Molly Antopol’s world?

Molly Antopol’s characters are mostly Jewish or Eastern Europeans and they are mostly alienated – from spouse or kids, from past ideology and beliefs, and often, from their most authentic selves. Each story is a little gem unto itself.

In one story, we meet an American actor of Russian ancestry who has eschewed his Russian past, only to leverage it in order win a part with a leftist film director. Fingered during the McCarthy era, he goes to prison in support of beliefs that aren’t even truly his. Upon release, he spends a weekend with his admiring 10-year-old son and comes face-to-face with his hypocrisy.

In one of my favorites, “A Difficult Phase,” a downsized Israeli journalist –floundering in her life – begins to question her life choices when she meets an attractive widower and his young teenage daughter. “This is what she was good at: being the blank, understanding face across the table; putting people so at ease they revealed the things they didn’t want to share with anyone, the things they wished didn’t exist at all.”

Another story, “The Old World,” focuses on a middle-aged tailor who meets and marries a Ukrainian widow, and travels with her back to her hometown, only to discover that he is a poor substitute for her dead husband. He reflects on his grown daughter who is a “born-again Jew:”

“Maybe in religion, Beth really had discovered a way never to be alone. Maybe I am the lost one, wandering the streets of Kiev, competing with a dead man.”

Other stories are equally well-crafted and psychologically acute: a decorated Israeli solder comes home and suffers a fluke accident, which sets in play some poignant dynamics between him and his brother. A political dissident in Russia discovers that his neglected daughter has written an autobiographical play with himself as a key character. A young American woman and her Israeli husband must face the reality of their marriage, which is “so scary and real it required an entirely different language, new and strange and yet to be invented.”

Psychologically astute, subtlety crafted and haunted, this is a confident and poised debut, which may very well end up on my Top Ten of 2014 list. There is not one mediocre story in this whole remarkable collection. It’s one of the best debut story collections in years.

AMAZON READER RATING: from 14 readers
PUBLISHER: W. W. Norton & Company (February 3, 2014)
REVIEWER: Jill I. Shtulman
EXTRAS: Excerpt
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February 26, 2014 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags: , , ,  · Posted in: 5 under 35, Short Stories, World Lit, y Award Winning Author

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