Today’s Binocular Vision excerpt from “Chance”

“Oh God of our fathers,” the cantor began. His plummy voice broke. “God,” he began again, and this time he kept talking, though his face glistened like glass. “We of Congregation Beth Shalom accept this sacred scroll, the only remnant of Your worshippers of the village of Slavkov, whose every inhabitant perished in Majdanek. Whenever we read from this Torah we will think of our vanished brothers and sisters and their dear children. God, may we be worthy of this inheritance.”

He began a Hebrew prayer, which I might have followed, but I was thinking of what I’d learned in confirmation class about the village of Slavkov. Its Jews were artisans and peddlers and money lenders. Some of them read the Holy Books all day long in the House of Study. Then I thought about things I only guessed: some of them drank too much and others coveted their neighbor’s silver and one or two of them lay with peasant women. A few little boys plotted to set their cheder on fire. On Sunday nights a group of men gathered in a storefront, putting troubles aside for a few hours, consulting the wise numeracy of a pack of cards.

The cantor ended his prayer. He handed the scroll to the rabbi. The rabbi held it vertically in his arms. He turned toward the ark. The president of the congregation opened the ark. The rabbi placed the Czech Torah beside our everyday one.

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Introducing daily Binocular Vision excerpts

In honor of Edith Pearlman’s Binocular Vision being named a finalist for the National Book Award in fiction, we’re offering a taste of her stories. Every weekday morning between now and November 16, the day of the ceremony, we’ll post an excerpt from her collection to the blog. Enjoy!

From “If Love Were All”

The children came, wave after wave of them. Polish children, Austrian children, Hungarian children, German children. Some came like parcels bought from the governments that withheld passports from their parents. These children wore coats, and each carried a satchel. Some came in unruly bands, having lived like squirrels in the mountains or like rats by the rivers. Some came escorted by social workers who couldn’t wait to get rid of them. Few understood English. Some knew only Yiddish. Some had infectious diseases. Some seemed feebleminded, but it turned out that they had been only temporarily enfeebled by hardship.

They slept for a night or two in a seedy hotel near Waterloo station. Sonya and Mrs. Levinger, who directed the agency, stayed in the hotel, too, intending to sleep—they were always tired, for the bombing had begun. But the women failed to sleep, for the children—not crying; they rarely cried—wandered through the halls, or hid in closets, smoking cigarettes, or went up and down the lift. The next day, or the next day but one, Sonya and Mrs. Levinger escorted them to their quarters in the countryside, and deposited them with stout farm families, these Viennese who had never seen a cow; or left them in hastily assembled orphanages staffed with elderly schoolteachers, these Berliners who had known only the tender hands of nursemaids; or stashed them in a bishop’s palace, these Polish children for whom Christians were the devil; the Viennese kids might have found the palace suitable; the Hungarians would have formed a vigorous troupe within the orphanage; the little Poles, familiar with chickens, might have become comfortable on the farms. But the billets rarely matched the children. The organization took what it could get. After the children were settled, however uneasily, Sonya and Mrs. Levinger rode the train back to London, Mrs. Levinger returning to her husband and Sonya to solitude.

Excerpted from “If Love Were All” from Binocular Vision: New & Selected StoriesCopyright © 2011 by Edith Pearlman. Used by permission of Lookout Books, an imprint of the Department of Creative Writing at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.



Edith Pearlman receives 24th PEN/Malamud Award

Washington, DC––Edith Pearlman has been selected to receive the 24th annual PEN/Malamud Award. Given annually since 1988 in honor of the late Bernard Malamud, this award recognizes a body of work that demonstrates excellence in the art of short fiction. The announcement was made today by the directors of the PEN/Faulkner Foundation, Robert Stone and Susan Richards Shreve, Co-Chairs.

“Bernard Malamud expressed the hope that ‘expert practitioners of the short story, especially those who come rarely if ever to the novel, will be recognized’ so that their work might be ‘brought emphatically to public attention.’ With this prize, we hope to bring exactly such long-deserved attention emphatically to Ms. Pearlman’s beautifully crafted and deeply moving short fiction,” said Deborah Tannen, chair of the Malamud Award Selection Committee.

Edith Pearlman has published more than 250 works of short fiction and short non-fiction in national magazines, literary journals, anthologies, and on-line publications. Her work has appeared in Best American Short StoriesThe O. Henry Prize Collection,New Stories from the South, and The Pushcart Prize Collection Best of the Small Presses.

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Booklist on Binocular Vision

There is a vast difference between reading Pearlman’s stories in a magazine or anthology and reading this collection. In settings ranging from unnamed South American countries to the Boston suburbs, from the current day to the last century (e.g., the Russian Revolution, WWII), depictions of people, places, and manners are so perfect that the stories become totally immersive. The characters, always interesting, are limned just as strongly whether female or male, young or old. The Latin American minister of health (called the Cow by her enemies) in “Vaquita” and the old man studying Japanese at age 75 in “Relic and Type” both linger in memory long after the book is closed. Stylistically, the stories are complex in their use of language, with technique incorporated seamlessly to engage and provoke readers. Many describe the lives of Jews who have integrated into the modern world and who examine the resonance of Judaism in their lives. The stories’ disparate lengths are no impediment to these qualities. The shorter “The Story” is just as involving as the longer “Binocular Vision.” Give this wonderful collection to fans of such classic short story writers as Andre Dubus and Alice Munro and novelists like Nicole Krauss. They will thank you.

*Starred Review*, Ellen Loughran, Booklist

The Complicated World of Adults

Karen Rigby has a lovely review of Binocular Vision on The Rumpus today.

I recently read Binocular Vision, a volume of new and collected stories by Edith Pearlman, on a cross-country flight. On my return, I read the stories again. Rare is the collection that rewards many divings; rarer still when all of the work, whether early or new, is confident in its artistry, when the hours spent reading escape notice in the way only complete absorption allows.

Be sure to read Rigby’s full review.


Publishers Weekly on Binocular Vision

A finely tuned collection by writer’s writer Pearlman combines the best of previous collections (How to Fall; etc.) with austere, polished new work. Pearlman’s characters for the most part are stiff-upper-lipped Northeasterners who take what comes and don’t grumble: in “The Noncombatant,” Richard, a 49-year-old doctor suffering gravely from cancer during the tail end of WWII, rages quietly in his small Cape Cod town as celebrations erupt and memories of the wasted lives of the dead are swept away. A fictional Godolphin, Mass., is the setting for many of the stories, such as “Rules,” in which the well-meaning staff at a soup kitchen try not to pry into the lives of the “cheats and crazies, drunks and dealers” who frequent the place. “Hanging Fire” is a perfectly crafted story about a 21-year-old college graduate, Nancy, on the cusp of embarking on life and certain only of her obligation to herself. The tale of retired gastroenterologist Cornelia Fitch in “Self-Reliance” reads like the fulfillment of Nancy’s own self-determined trajectory: after a successful career, she determines how she wants to leave this life: with dignity and a wink. This should win new converts for Pearlman.

Publishers Weekly, Starred Review