Summary and book reviews of There Are Jews In My House by Lara Vapnyar

There Are Jews In My House

Stories

by Lara Vapnyar

There Are Jews In My House
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  • First Published:
    Dec 2003, 160 pages
    Paperback:
    Dec 2004, 160 pages

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Book Summary

Adept at both snapshots and long exposures, Lara Vapnyar writes of life's adventures and possibilities, its disappointments and unexpected turns, with delicate humor, brilliant timing, and striking emotional honesty.

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 ambivalence—about 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 Lessons—Mondays, 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.

"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...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Simple stories, told well combine to form a stunning debut by Lara Vapnyar. Her stories become even more impressive when one learns that she did not start to learn English until she emigrated from Russia to New York in 1994 - a mere decade ago.  

Media Reviews

The New York Times Book Review - Boris Fishman

Vapnyar ...draws an indelible portrait of the land she left behind...Here is the Soviet Union as only its citizens knew it -- a junkyard of truncated aspirations, moral degradation, despair and inexplicable resilience, a place at once labyrinthine and explicit, dysfunctional and yet determined to survive.

Booklist - Donna Seaman

Writing with rinsed-clean lucidity and keen receptivity to the ridiculous and the sublime, Vapnyar portrays resilient individuals who counter loss and displacement with a covert faith in romance.

Publishers Weekly

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.

Author Blurb André Aciman
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 voice—a 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.

Author Blurb Louis Menand
Lara Vapnyar is Jane Austen with a Russian soul. The blend of coolness and pathos in these perfect stories is uncanny.

Author Blurb Gary Shteyngart
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.

Reader Reviews

Olga Roninson

A new voice
I have been waitng for a writer to come and give voice to the mass emigration of Jews from the former Soviet Union for more than 20 years- and here it is! Like Lara, I grew up in Moscow, in a Jewish fmaily, which belonged to the intelligentsia. ...   Read More

alla gershburg

Exceptional!
Dear Lara, my only regret about the book is that it is too short! Please write more.

panch goldstein

Poorly written balderdash

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