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Irene Zabytko, When Luba Leaves Home

My original intention for this site was to present my own writings as well as my impressions of noteworthy books I was reading. While I've done a decent job of keeping up with my writings, circumstances beyond my control--i.e. dread of another four years of George Bush, and the will to prevent such a catastrophe--have largely precluded book commentary. I'm going to try rectifying this by getting back to at least a basic level of commentary.

Which brings us to Irene Zabytko's warm, wonderful collection of short stories, When Luba Leaves Home, which I just finished reading. The stories all revolve around Ukrainian immigrants in Chicago's Ukrainian Village neighborhood during the late 1960s. The narrator, Luba (clearly a proxy for Zabytko herself) inevitably tries to free herself from the confines of her parents' generation and the neighborhood.

Had the book limited itself to this theme, it might have become just another coming-of-age story. But interestingly, she grows increasingly distant from her friends of her own generation as she finds herself drawing closer and closer to her parents' generation. The characters of her own generation are somewhat flat, almost archetypes, and the stories which primarily involve them aren't very engaging. But the older characters are richly and vividly drawn, and the stories surrounding them are extremely well-done and quite often beautiful. The story "The Last Boat," in which Luba tells of her relationship with her dying, widower Uncle Dutka, is particulary lovely and unforgettable.

While this is a collection of short stories, with each able to stand alone on its own merits, there is enough interconnection between the stories that the book almost reads like a novel. This is a trend I've noticed recently in short story collections (other examples are Stuart Dybek's I Sailed With Magellan, John McNally's The Book of Ralph and David Bezmozgis' Natasha: And Other Stories); whether or not this is a new development, I can't say for sure.

(Thanks to Golden Rule Jones for turning me on to this one...Sam's brief written review is here and his WBEZ piece is here.)

August 18, 2004 in Books | Permalink