REVIEW by Willard Manus
anthology features the work of twenty-two writers and poets who are recent
immigrants to the United States. The remarkable thing about them is how
well they write in their second language, English.
The work that Dalkey Archive has culled from the 2011 Vilcek Prize for
Creative Promise in Literature--restricted to non-native writers under
forty--includes novel excerpts, short stories and poetry.
One of the writers, the novelist Laleh Khadivi, an Iranian Kurd, believes
that immigrant writers will change the face of American literature. "The
twenty-first century will see an unprecedented movement of individuals,
families, lifestyles, religions, currency, ideas, and dreams, and as I
too am one of those nearly 250 million people who will die far from where
they were born, my author's eye is drawn to the human mosaic forever shifting
in and around me," Khadivi writes.
Khadivi is represented with a poem and three stories, one of which, The
Initiate, deals powerfully and evocatively with a Kurdish rite-of-passage,
the circumcision of a young man.
Among other personal favorites of mine were the poet Ilya Kaminsky, who
left Odessa in 1993 and published his first American collection eleven
years later, and Dinaw Mengetsu, who fled the Ethiopian police state in
1980 and ended up in Peoria, Illinois, where he soon began writing fiction
and journalism. An excerpt from his second novel, How to Read the Air,
is carried in AMERICAN ODYSSEYS (Mengetsu won the Vilcek Prize for this
In his foreword to AMERICAN ODYSSEYS, Charles Simic quotes Mengetsu: "Refugees.
How could you not love them? Who else has it worse?"
(Dalkey Archive, 600 pages, ppbk; $16.)