Summary and book reviews of Brass by Xhenet Aliu

Brass

by Xhenet Aliu

Brass by Xhenet Aliu X
Brass by Xhenet Aliu
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  • First Published:
    Jan 2018, 304 pages
    Paperback:
    Jan 8, 2019, 304 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Rebecca Foster

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About this Book

Book Summary

Told in equally gripping parallel narratives with biting wit and grace, Brass announces a fearless new voice with a timely, tender, and quintessentially American story.

A waitress at the Betsy Ross Diner, Elsie hopes her nickel-and-dime tips will add up to a new life. Then she meets Bashkim, who is at once both worldly and naïve, a married man who left Albania to chase his dreams - and wound up working as a line cook in Waterbury, Connecticut. Back when the brass mills were still open, this bustling factory town drew one wave of immigrants after another. Now it's the place they can't seem to leave. Elsie, herself the granddaughter of Lithuanian immigrants, falls in love quickly, but when she learns that she's pregnant, Elsie can't help wondering where Bashkim's heart really lies, and what he'll do about the wife he left behind.

Seventeen years later, headstrong and independent Luljeta receives a rejection letter from NYU and her first-ever suspension from school on the same day. Instead of striking out on her own in Manhattan, she's stuck in Connecticut with her mother, Elsie - a fate she refuses to accept. Wondering if the key to her future is unlocking the secrets of the past, Lulu decides to find out what exactly her mother has been hiding about the father she never knew. As she soon discovers, the truth is closer than she ever imagined.

CHAPTER ONE

When the last of the brass mills locked up their doors and hauled ass out of town once and for all, it seemed all they left behind were blocks of abandoned factories that poked out from behind high stone gates like caskets floated to the surface after the Great Flood of? '55.

But that wasn't true. They also left my father's hands with nothing to callus them, those poor idle bastards that once upon a time abandoned a Korean Stratocaster knockoff in favor of a Bridgeport milling machine, and just like most love triangles, it turned out he chose wrong. It left my mother slumping over the assembly line at the Peter Paul Mounds and Almond Joy factory down the street in Naugatuck, where she sometimes felt like a nut but more often she felt like a highball. It left my sister, Greta, younger than me by two years but with test scores that painted me a remedial toddler by comparison, with a tic that made her pull out her hair until the white bald patches of her scalp ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Brass is a striking portrait of the immigrant and second-generation experience in America. I especially liked how Xhenet Aliu—who has previously published a short story collection and is herself from Waterbury, CT and the daughter of an Albanian father and Lithuanian-American mother—weaves in different uses of the title "brass," as in "brass knuckles," "brass trumpets" and a "brass knocker." An inscription above Waterbury's City Hall reads (in Latin) "What is more lasting than brass?" Elsie keeps asking herself that same question. Will her love for Bashkim and the stability of their new family last longer than the brass mills did in town?   (Reviewed by Rebecca Foster).

Full Review Members Only (673 words).

Media Reviews

The Huffington Post
In mordant, biting prose, [Xhenet Aliu] interweaves the stories of a mother and a daughter living in a fading Connecticut town they both hopelessly long to escape from

Publishers Weekly
Striking first novel ... This is a captivating, moving story of drastic measures, failed schemes, and the loss of innocence.

Booklist
Starred Review. Aliu has created a boldly witty and astute inquiry into the nature-versus-nurture debate, the inheritance of pain, and the dream of transcendence.

Kirkus Reviews
Starred Review. Aliu's riveting, sensitive work shines with warmth, clarity, and a generosity of spirit. Her characters are nuanced and real, capable of taking risks, making mistakes, and growing in unexpected ways. Aliu's writing is polished and precise, bringing her characters glowingly to life.

Author Blurb Celeste Ng, author of Little Fires Everywhere
A fierce, big-hearted, unflinching debut.

Author Blurb Cristina Henríquez, author of The Book of Unknown Americans
Xhenet Aliu is ferociously talented. She's written a story so scathingly honest with characters so perfectly real, it left me breathless with admiration. There is no false sentiment here, no misplaced word, just a novel that pulses with a restless energy, a novel that pulses with life.

Reader Reviews

sneely

memorable debut!
Told from well constructed and alternating mother/daughter perspective, Brass is a gritty look at the working class melting pot of Waterbury, CT. Choices about family, work and sex are pieced together with lead paint, thieving liars, failing ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

Albanian Communism

Bashkim Hasani, who is Elsie's boyfriend and Luljeta's father in Xhenet Aliu's novel Brass, was born in an Albanian work camp, one of many which were set up under Communist rule.

The Albanian Communist Party was founded in 1941 with the help of Yugoslavia's communist leader, Josip Tito. An Albanian communist politician, Enver Hoxha, was its first secretary. In 1946, Hoxha became the country's prime minister, defense minister, foreign minister, and commander-in-chief—in effect, an absolute dictator. There followed 45 years of increasingly xenophobic Communist rule, 40 of which were under the leadership of Hoxha, who died in April 1985. During much of this time, from 1946 to 1976, the country was officially known as the People's ...

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