Catalogue


There are Jews in my house /
Laura Vapnyar.
imprint
New York : Pantheon Books, 2003.
description
149 p.
ISBN
0375422501
format(s)
Book
Holdings
More Details
imprint
New York : Pantheon Books, 2003.
isbn
0375422501
catalogue key
5063848
A Look Inside
Awards
This item was nominated for the following awards:
Los Angeles Times Book Prizes, USA, 2003 : Nominated
Young Lions Fiction Award, USA, 2004 : Nominated
Excerpts
Excerpt from Book
"There Are Jews in My House" Galina carried in an aluminum pot of boiled potatoes, holding it by the handles with a kitchen towel. She put it on a wooden holder in the middle of a round table covered with a beige oilcloth. She opened the lid and, turning her face away from the steam, ladled coarse, unpeeled potatoes onto each of the four plates. The plates were beautiful: delicate, white, with a golden rim and little forget-me-nots in the center. For the past six weeks, they'd been eating in the living room, where the heavy dark brown curtains covered the only window. For the past two weeks, they'd been eating in silence. From time to time, somebody coughed or sneezed, the girls might whisper something to each other, or even giggle, after which they glanced guiltily at their mothers, but mostly they heard only themselves blowing on their food and the clatter of heavy silver forks. Galina didn't mind the silence. It was better than having to talk, to keep up a forced conversation, as she did a few weeks before. Even the room itself was best suited for silence. It was large and square, empty and spotless. The sparse furniture was drawn close to the walls, and there was only a massive dinner table in the middle, rising like an island on the dark brown floorboards. Since they dined on potatoes everyday, Galina was used to everybody's eating habits. Her seven-year-old daughter, Tanya, cut the potato in half and bit the insides out of the skin hurriedly, then ate the skins too. Raya, sitting across from Galina, peeled potatoes for herself and her eight-year-old daughter, Leeza. "Two princesses," Galina thought. Raya peeled potatoes with her hands, using her delicate fingernails to hook the skins. She bent her head so low that her dingy hair almost touched her plate. Raya and Leeza broke their peeled potatoes into small pieces and ate, picking them up with a fork. Raya's hands were often shaking, and then the fork clutched in her fingers was shaking too, knocking on the plate with an unnerving tinkling sound. Galina had the urge to catch that trembling fork and hold it tight, not to let it shake. "Chew, chew!" Galina kept saying to Tanya, who tended to swallow big chunks in a hungry rush. "You're wasting your food when you're not chewing." Galina herself ate slowly. She picked up a whole potato on a fork and ate it with the skin, biting off pieces with her strong, wide teeth. She chewed zealously, careful not to waste food and also trying to prolong dinner as much as possible, because the hours between dinner and going to bed were the most unbearable. Six weeks ago, when Raya and Leeza first came to live at Galina's place, it had been different. Galina and Raya spent the evenings talking, mostly about the prewar life that seemed now unreal and perfect. They retold some minor episodes in meticulous detail, as if the precision of their memories could turn that prewar life into something real, and failure to remember something could unlock the door of Galina's apartment and let the war in. If one of them was unsure of a detail, she relied on the memory of the other. "I used to buy Moscow rolls every Saturday. Remember, Moscow rolls, the small ones with the striped crust? They were six kopecks each. Were they six kopecks?" "I think they were seven--the ones with poppy seeds cost six." Often, their conversations went on well into the night, after the girls had fallen asleep. Then they moved closer to each other and talked in whispers. Now, right after dinner, Raya went into the back room, where she and Leeza slept, and sat there on the bed with her back to Galina. Sometimes, Raya bent over the nightstand and started a letter--to her husband no doubt--but after a few lines she always stopped and crumpled the paper. At other times, Raya had a book in her hands, but she didn't turn the pages. Through the opened door--Raya never shut the door--Galin
First Chapter
"There Are Jews in My House"

Galina carried in an aluminum pot of boiled potatoes, holding it by the handles with a kitchen towel. She put it on a wooden holder in the middle of a round table covered with a beige oilcloth. She opened the lid and, turning her face away from the steam, ladled coarse, unpeeled potatoes onto each of the four plates. The plates were beautiful: delicate, white, with a golden rim and little forget-me-nots in the center.

For the past six weeks, they'd been eating in the living room, where the heavy dark brown curtains covered the only window. For the past two weeks, they'd been eating in silence. From time to time, somebody coughed or sneezed, the girls might whisper something to each other, or even giggle, after which they glanced guiltily at their mothers, but mostly they heard only themselves blowing on their food and the clatter of heavy silver forks. Galina didn't mind the silence. It was better than having to talk, to keep up a forced conversation, as she did a few weeks before. Even the room itself was best suited for silence. It was large and square, empty and spotless. The sparse furniture was drawn close to the walls, and there was only a massive dinner table in the middle, rising like an island on the dark brown floorboards.

Since they dined on potatoes everyday, Galina was used to everybody's eating habits. Her seven-year-old daughter, Tanya, cut the potato in half and bit the insides out of the skin hurriedly, then ate the skins too. Raya, sitting across from Galina, peeled potatoes for herself and her eight-year-old daughter, Leeza. "Two princesses," Galina thought. Raya peeled potatoes with her hands, using her delicate fingernails to hook the skins. She bent her head so low that her dingy hair almost touched her plate. Raya and Leeza broke their peeled potatoes into small pieces and ate, picking them up with a fork. Raya's hands were often shaking, and then the fork clutched in her fingers was shaking too, knocking on the plate with an unnerving tinkling sound. Galina had the urge to catch that trembling fork and hold it tight, not to let it shake. "Chew, chew!" Galina kept saying to Tanya, who tended to swallow big chunks in a hungry rush. "You're wasting your food when you're not chewing." Galina herself ate slowly. She picked up a whole potato on a fork and ate it with the skin, biting off pieces with her strong, wide teeth. She chewed zealously, careful not to waste food and also trying to prolong dinner as much as possible, because the hours between dinner and going to bed were the most unbearable.

Six weeks ago, when Raya and Leeza first came to live at Galina's place, it had been different. Galina and Raya spent the evenings talking, mostly about the prewar life that seemed now unreal and perfect. They retold some minor episodes in meticulous detail, as if the precision of their memories could turn that prewar life into something real, and failure to remember something could unlock the door of Galina's apartment and let the war in. If one of them was unsure of a detail, she relied on the memory of the other. "I used to buy Moscow rolls every Saturday. Remember, Moscow rolls, the small ones with the striped crust? They were six kopecks each. Were they six kopecks?" "I think they were seven--the ones with poppy seeds cost six." Often, their conversations went on well into the night, after the girls had fallen asleep. Then they moved closer to each other and talked in whispers.

Now, right after dinner, Raya went into the back room, where she and Leeza slept, and sat there on the bed with her back to Galina. Sometimes, Raya bent over the nightstand and started a letter--to her husband no doubt--but after a few lines she always stopped and crumpled the paper. At other times, Raya had a book in her hands, but she didn't turn the pages. Through the opened door--Raya never shut the door--Galin
Full Text Reviews
Appeared in Library Journal on 2004-01-01:
In her first collection, Vapnyar, who emigrated from Russia to the United States in 1994, mesmerizes readers with her touching characters. The title story revolves around a gentile woman who wants to save her Jewish friend and the friend's daughter during World War II, letting them hide in her rural apartment. This doesn't make her a saint, only human; her ambivalence about the situation soon surfaces, though she doesn't go back on her word. In "Love Lessons-Mondays, 9:00 A.M.," an inexperienced math teacher gets called on to teach sex education to tenth-grade girls. Mixing textbook material with stories from her aunt and questions from her students, she wins respect from the other teachers with her easy charm and rapport with the students. Vapnyar's characters immediately steal a place in one's heart; they go about their daily routines with grace, simplicity, and determination, demonstrating pride without being boastful and innocence without being gullible. Highly recommended for public libraries.-Lisa Nussbaum, Dauphin Cty. Lib. Syst., Harrisburg, PA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Appeared in Publishers Weekly on 2003-10-06:
Whether set in Vapnyar's native Russia or in her adopted New York, the six understated stories in this debut collection are beautifully crafted and unswerving in their exploration of human frailty. Friendship shades into resentment and then betrayal in the title story, in which Galina, a Russian librarian in a small Nazi-occupied town takes in her best friend, Raya, a Jewish woman with an eight-year-old daughter. As time passes, Galina nurses an increasing number of petty grudges, until she considers going to the Nazi authorities, practicing her small stock of German: "Es gibt Juden in mein Haus." A final shock reveals to her the terrible transformation she has undergone. On a lighter note, "Love Lessons-Mondays, 9 a.m." is about the struggle of an inexperienced young teacher ("I wasn't a virgin. Or at least I hoped I wasn't") to teach a sex education class; she relies on her Aunt Galya's explicit stories for firsthand advice she passes off as her own. In "Mistress," a boy and his grandfather, recent immigrants from Russia living in Brooklyn, escape the scrutiny of the boy's nagging grandmother by losing themselves in study, the boy in his schoolbooks and the old man in English lessons. On a walk together one day, they encounter one of the grandfather's classmates, and a word the boy has uncomprehendingly heard gains new meaning. Vapnyar only learned English after moving to New York from Russia in 1994, but her deft, subtle way with language is as remarkable as her wry, knowing character portraits. (Dec. 2) Forecast: Vapnyar's classical sensibility is far from the scrappy postmodernism of Aleksandar Hemon, but both are standouts as self-taught writers of English (Vapnyar supposedly learned the language by watching television and reading Jane Austen and Alice Munro), and both provide idiosyncratic takes on the former Communist world. As a result, they will likely be compared in reviews, and Vapnyar might attract some of Hemon's readers. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Reviews
Review Quotes
"A remarkable collection . . . Eerie in its simplicity, stunning in its scope. Through her tender, insightful writing, Vapnyar's characters, battered by history and each other, emerge from the long Soviet night oddly radiant and whole." Gary Shteyngart "From post-glasnost Russia, where drab, cold, cinder-block homes seldom evoke anything beyond the color gray, by way of an immigrant's New York, where no one has the heart to throw away beat-up samovars and abandoned meat grinders, has sprung a fresh, new, sprightly voicea voice that is at once that of an adult who remembers childhood far too keenly and that of a child who watches the antic goings-on of adult sexuality with the baffled silence of the wise. One is tempted to name Anton Chekhov, or Nina Berberova, or Katherine Mansfield, but the book that springs to mind is Andre Aciman "Lara Vapnyar is Jane Austen with a Russian soul. The blend of coolness and pathos in these perfect stories is uncanny." Louis Menand From the Hardcover edition.
This item was reviewed in:
Publishers Weekly, October 2003
Booklist, November 2003
New York Times Book Review, December 2003
Library Journal, January 2004
New York Times Book Review, March 2005
To find out how to look for other reviews, please see our guides to finding book reviews in the Sciences or Social Sciences and Humanities.
Summaries
Main Description
Innocence rounds the bend to experience in these beautifully shaped stories of Moscow and Brooklyn, which take up the worldview of the young and overlooked. The stunning Second World War story that opens the book is a masterpiece of ambivalenceabout the simultaneous generosity and hypocrisy of Galina, a gentile Russian woman who offers safe harbor to a Jewish friend and her daughter during the German occupation. In "Love LessonsMondays, 9 A.M.," a young math teacher is assigned to teach a girls' sex education class, even though she herself is still awaiting her first kiss. And in "Mistress," a boy newly arrived in this country bears witness to the intimate details of his grandparents' new and diverging lives: his grandmother's doctors' appointments, where he is charged with translating her myriad complaints into English, and his grandfather's clandestine courtship of another woman. Adept at both snapshots and long exposures, Lara Vapnyar, herself a recent immigrant, writes of life's adventures and possibilities, its disappointments and unexpected turns, with delicate humor, brilliant timing, and striking emotional honesty. She is a writer to relish and to watch. From the Hardcover edition.
Table of Contents
There Are Jews in My Housep. 3
Ovrashki's Trainsp. 51
Lydia's Grovep. 63
A Question for Verap. 79
Mistressp. 91
Love Lessons - Mondays, 9 A.M.p. 120
Table of Contents provided by Blackwell. All Rights Reserved.

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