Vapnyar’s debut

Boris Fishman reviews Lara Vapnyar’s debut short story collection, There Are Jews in My House. He begins:

The emotional landscape of childhood, with its naivete and surprise, is so difficult to reclaim that its greatest chroniclers — Lewis Carroll in ”Alice in Wonderland,” Boris Pasternak in ”Liuvers’s Childhood” — have often resorted to fantasy or abstraction. In her first collection, ”There Are Jews in My House,” where all but one of the six stories are written from the perspective of a child from the former Soviet Union, Lara Vapnyar instead chooses a devout hyperrealism. In chaste, almost artless prose, she conjures up the inchoate lives of children grappling to make sense of the adults all around them.

I rather admired Vapnyar’s story in the 2003 Debut Fiction issue of The New Yorker (it was the only one of the three I liked), which concerns a young Russian woman who takes a job as a sex-ed teacher in an urban school. Evidently it is included in the collection. I was less impressed with the Vapnyar story that appeared in Open City #17. Another Vapnyar piece appeared in a prior issue of Open City. I haven’t read it yet, but it’s available online.

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