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There Are Jews in My House Paperback – December 7, 2004

4.7 out of 5 stars 15 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From 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. 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.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

In her first book, Vapnyar, a recent Russian emigrant, dramatizes an evocative array of Russian and Russian American experiences in six neatly constructed and emotionally intricate short stories. As fluent in the language of the body as in that of the mind, Vapnyar laces her stories with magnifying-glass-close observations and a pervasive sense of thwarted eroticism. In the title story, a Russian woman gives shelter to a Jewish co-worker as Nazis occupy their town, a courageous and compassionate act soon undermined by tensions related to class and sexual envy. In "Lydia's Grove," a young girl witnesses the uneasy dynamics between her children's book author mother and her lesbian coauthor. In the perfectly balanced "Mistress," a young boy becomes sensitized to the longings of adults, and in "Love Lessons--Monday, 9 A.M.," a naive math teacher dreads, then exults in her assignment to teach sex ed. 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. Donna Seaman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 160 pages
  • Publisher: Anchor; 52802nd edition (December 7, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400033896
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400033898
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.4 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #509,550 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
I went out and bought this book based on a review in one of the free newspapers handed out at major train stations in New York, and it was a terrific read! Having grown up in Russia around the same time as Ms. Vapnyar, I can confirm that her portrayal of life both in Russia proper and little Russia in Brooklyn is exceptionally accurate. Yet, though the book wasn't an eye-opener to me, it was entertaining and thoughtful. Each story had its own unexpected twist and ended a bit abruptly, leaving it to the reader to ponder its final meaning.

The opening story is the longest and most ambiotious of the book. It is also the scariest, though again not the way one would expect. My favorite, however, was the story called Mistress, portraying psychological struggles of recent Russian immigrants living in Brooklyn. From the nine-year-old boy Misha who is forced to assist his linguistically handicapped grandmother to his grandfather finding himself unable to work in America and earn his respect, Vapnyar's depth and precision in revealing their most intimate feelings are truly unbelievable. A Dostoyevsky influence is visible, but Vapnyar's writing is much lighter and less imposing.

Overall, this is an excellent book combining an intriguing literary style with good entertainment, warmth and food for one's thoughts and soul.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
In Vapnyar's book, she shows a tremendous talent for integration and understand of personal feelings, and particularly, some nuances of prejudice, that we don't often consider. Most, but not all, of the stories in this book take place in Russia. Part of Vapnyar's brilliant writing style in this short book of short stories is her ability to capture so vividly, the picture and feeling of the surrounding environment in very few words, but her descriptions never seem incomplete.
The title story is particularly poignant, and shows the level of anti-semitism in Russia mostly in the 1940's, and how while it was there, it was not the same as that of Poland, which was ingrained in the society for 100's of years, or that of Germany, which was institutionalized by the Nazi party. Yet, it was still there, it was always there. And when a person started to get on another's nerves, when they were more successful, when they were more literate, when they did things that were beyond the ability of the other individual, well the answer cannot be, that I am inferior, it must be, that they are Jews.
But must it? Perhaps, if perception is reality. Even the children in her story, "A Question For Vera" are indoctrinated in some of the usual anti-semitic methods of the time, including phrenology. It is in this very story, that Vapnyar poses the question, so reminiscent of Shakespeare's Shylock in the "Merchant of Venice" when he says, "...If you prick us do we not bleed?..." But Vapnyar says it her way, "What if ... there wasn't anything bad or special about being Jewish? Katya looked around. There was nobody to answer that question..."
Aside from her incredible insight, it is so much the more so interesting, that English is not Ms. Vapnyar's first language.
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By A Customer on December 15, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Don't be misled by this book's title into thinking its concerns are narrowly ethnic. Although the first story lends the collection its title, the last story's title ("Love Lessons...") points to the book's larger subject of love in its various forms: first love, a child's love, gay love, adulterous love, altruistic love. Like Chekhov, Vapnyar draws you into her stories with carefully chosen, specific details and characters rendered lifelike with a few light strokes: a pear-shaped principal whose black pumps leave impressions in the linoleum ("Love Lessons"), an obsessively cooking grandmother who smells of sweat, valerian root, and dill ("Mistress"). These last two stories, along with the title story, are longer, more complexly constructed, but the shorter stories have their own charm. "Ovrashki's Trains" breaks your heart as you watch a lonely girl pass her time beneath a summer cottage preparing mudcakes for her dolls while waiting for a father who will never arrive. Through stories of Russian Jews in Moscow and Brooklyn, Vapnyar conveys the inclinations of the human heart.
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By A Customer on December 22, 2003
Format: Hardcover
I first read Lara Vapnyar in the debut fiction issue of The New Yorker. I've now read this collection. She is on her way to be one of our very best writers. Her prose is simple but never kitchy. Her characters are nuanced, complex, unforgettable. They instruct us in the ways humans love (and betray) one another. Ms. Vapnyar is the most interesting new writer I've read this year.
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By A Customer on February 8, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Vapnyar's writing is so light that you barely notice that you're reading. The title story is my favorite-a very powerful tale of jealousy between two Russian women during Nazi invasion. Love Lessons is different, but great too. My favorite line (spoken by a young sexual education teacher): "It was not as if I had no experience whatsoever. I wasn't a virgin. Or at least I hoped I wasn't. Actually I couldn't be completely sure about it."
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a well crafted and very readable collection of short stories. The powerful title story is a frightening account of a Russian Jew and her daughter who are hidden by a gentile friend with second thoughts. Other stories touch on the Russian immigrant experience in Brooklyn. Her subjects are treated with empathy and compassion.
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