short fiction

Seasons of Purgatory by Shahriar Mandanipour- Translated by Sara Khalili

seasons

By g emil reutter

In Seasons of Purgatory, Mandanipour writes of life in the Theocratic Republic of Iran. His character development and plot development is fresh in each short story.  Woven through are stories of defiance, front line war, a judgmental village, the taking of a daughter and belittlement of the father.

We meet Mr. Farvaneh in the story Shadows of the Cave. A defiant man who still wears a tie when he visits his wife’s grave. He also maintains a library and a fascination with the animals at the zoo across the street from his apartment. He is also the glue that holds his building together until the end when as in life it really doesn’t matter. Mandanipour brings us to the backward town of Guraab in the story Shatter the Stone Tooth. The narrator is there to help bring some education to the people of the town, yet he spends most of his time in a cave with a stone carving on the wall and a wild dog. The story progresses quickly as the town turns on him and in mass attempt to kill the dog in various barbaric attempts symbolizing the conflict between the man and dog and the town for one is urban and the other rural.  The title story, Seasons of Purgatory, brings us to the front lines of the Iran-Iraq war. Primarily the Iranian soldiers and their commanders who sit above a valley that is no man’s land. Mandanipour captures the violence, disregard for human life as an abandoned Iraqi soldier long dead leans on a rock formation as animals feed on him, bullets strike him and howls fill the valley.

King of the Graveyard tells the story of a husband and wife in search of their son and his unmarked grave in the local cemetery. They search for years, envy those with marked graves unable to grieve for their son. The son killed for opposing the revolution, shot down in the street and dumped in an unmarked grave so the family would be deprived of grieving.  Another couple have a son taken and disposed of and then in horror learn their daughter had been taken and raped, those rapists respond and give the father sweets pretending to be groomsmen. Heartbreaking as the father feigns celebration, dancing in the street.  The story Seven Captains brings a philanderer back to town twenty some years after his married lover was stoned to death for their relationship. It is an excellent example of love and betrayal on many levels throughout the story.

In these tales of collective and individual violence; of boredom, brutality of war and religion; love and loss; Mandanipour establishes himself as a gifted, well-crafted story teller. Seasons of Purgatory is a must read for lovers of the short story. The translation by Sara Khalili to English captures the intensity and vibrancy of Mandanipour’s stories.

You can buy the book here: https://www.amazon.com/Seasons-Purgatory-Shahriar-Mandanipour/dp/1942658958

g emil reutter is a writer of stories, poems and occasional literary criticism. He can be found at:  https://gereutter.wordpress.com/about/

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The Emily Fables

emily-fables

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Review by g emil reutter

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Reading, The Emily Fables, brings to mind several of Steinbeck’s works. There is a similarity in the use of poetic prose in these fables with Steinbeck. That being said, leave no doubt that Stephanie Dickinson is not Steinbeck like, she is forging her own road in these fables of love and tragedy, of the humanity and inhumanity of man.  She uses beautiful words and images that at times leave the reader breathless. For instance, these lines from Emily and Spring Cleaning, a chore performed millions of times around the world but in Dickinson’s fable she brings us this:

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In the lowest part of the attic under the eaves, I discover a painting. The walnut frame imprisons a black-haired girl seated at her piano, her downcast lashes stare sleepily at the single long-stemmed rose beside her. I stare, willing my broom handle to break the picture glass. Awaken the girl, whose gauzy green dress might be a hundred caught Luna moths. Her eyes blink, two emerald-winged insects. She inhales sweetness, the deflowered blood of the rose petals.

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There is the beginning of the fable, Emily and the Frostbite: The Hermit and His Woman.

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The hermit and his woman froze in the woods. There where the last pieces of sun were falling like long straws into the white trees, they washed their bodies and walked unclothed and knelt on the ground. Next to each other, but not touching. By dusk their nakedness had taken on a blue sheen, the lovers’ flesh not unhappy to be ice-hard like rocks from a forming star.

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Dickinson writes of the plaque of Diphtheria in the fable Emily and the Strangling Angel.  Annie is afflicted.

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They won’t let her into the sick room for fear of her catching the bull-neck. Diphtheria, the strangling angel of children, hover over the bed. Annie’s throat is closing and the bluish membrane on her tongue spreads over her tonsils and pharynx. She no longer speaks and is silent like a tree whose thrushes and wrens have fled. Her eyes try to talk, to hold back the room that is slipping away, the carved crescent moon with its thimble-size staircase that leads to a star. Dark blue eyes, blueberries picked before ripening, eyes blue as ruffs worn by medieval cardinals.

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Dickinson celebrates life in The Fables of Emily, the joys and tragedy, the beauty and ugliness of it all as a master wordsmith whose lyrically intensity in each of these fables brings great satisfaction to the reader no matter the topic. These fables cover a 61 year period. Dickinson an urban writer reaches back to her rural roots to deliver The Emily Fables to us and we are better for it.

 

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You can find the book here: http://www.booknook-eljpublications.com/store/p83/The_Emily_Fables.html

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g emil reutter is a writer of poems and stories. You can find him here:About g emil reutter

Coulrophobia & Fata Morgana

Coulrophobia & Fata Morgana

By Jacob M. Appel

Black Lawrence Press – 2016

Review by g emil reutter

Jacob Appel is an observer of life and family. This collection of short stories captures the internal dynamics of family or what we believe family is. He brings to us the intimacy of sibling rivalry, parental impact, of betrayal with a set of unique characters set in bizarre circumstances and the everyday.

In the story, The Butcher’s Music, Appel sets the tone for this compelling collection of stories. We are introduced to two sisters, one a butcher the other a professional musician who plays a Tecchler cello. In the end Appel leaves us to decide who the butcher is and who is not. In Boundaries he brings us to a remote Customs Station on the Vermont and Canadian border on Christmas. The two agents are snowed in preparing a holiday dinner for the evening and ready to watch It’s A Wonderful Life for entertainment.  In this story Appel captures the intimacy between the two agents who are yet to be romantically involved and how their evening is interrupted by a young woman who approaches their station to enter the United States when they discover her skin is covered in a sheaf of pustules. The tension in the story rises as they have to take her in the station and are exposed to her illness. Appel captures the media obsession and irresponsibility with a story that may not be what it is and the reports on cable news.

Coulrophobia & Fata Morgana is at times dark, at times humorous. Appel’s development of characters in these short stories is simply outstanding and compelling. As one turns the page from one story to the next an unexpected adventure awaits the reader.

You can find the book here: http://www.spdbooks.org/Products/9781625579539/coulrophobia–fata-morgana.aspx

g emil reutter is a writer of poems and stories. He can be found at:https://gereutter.wordpress.com/about/