Pulling Shadows

Pulling Shadows

Reprinted from Fiction International, issue #38. Winner of PEN/Nob Hill prize for best novel excerpt.

“Keep your legs closed!” the midwife yelled at Ibu.  “Don’t you let that baby out!”

But Ibu couldn’t hear the midwife cursing her, threatening to keep the gate closed if Ibu didn’t listen.  She was beside herself with pain.  The women had not given her any painkillers so that her will would be strong, so she would keep the presence of mind to hold the baby in one more day.

The battle was hopeless.  They had tried everything to prevent Ibu from giving birth that day: all morning they’d fed her very young pineapple, bitter pineapple the size of a fist, pineapple after pineapple until she was ready to burst, until it became an almost abortive dose despite the ripeness of the baby.  Then they went past that threshold, letting the wind choose the lesser evil.  All in vain.

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Before the Law: a Rebuttal

Before the Law: a Rebuttal

Reprinted from the Chicago Quarterly Review, winter 2007. It’s a modified excerpt from The Ugly.

Muzhduk walked to the centre of the Quad. Everything was stately, romanesque, the buildings buttressed, cloistered, but varied: three hundred years of red brick architecture around one long rectangle of green grass criss-crossed with narrow, straight asphalt paths, spotted with American Elms someone had sat and calculated the optimal location of each tree, though many were now suffering the yellow wilt of Dutch Elm fungus — and the whole Yard felt carefully spaced and defined, even the sky above marked and divided by branches.

He walked north, past dormitories, libraries, halls, and chapels, past a statue of a man sitting in a large chair (the statue said, “John Harvard, Founder, 1638”), past an old wooden water-pump shaped like the hunched Russian babushkas he’d seen in Anadyr, Yakutsk, and Omyaykon.

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Bureaucracy

Bureaucracy

Reprinted from Literary Imagination: The Review of the Association of Literary Scholars and Critics, Vol.7, No.3, Oxford Journals. It is an excerpt of The Ugly.

I stood in the back of a pickup truck. It was a 32, distinguished from a 13 or a 17, although some large mini-vans are also 32s. Thirty-two people arranged with precision into the back of a Toyota pickup, we were on our way from one sandy part of the Sahara to another. The Sahara desert has things other than sand, but the part where we started, the part we traversed, and the part where we hoped to arrive were all sand, a beige, nondescript sort of sand which did not always stay on the ground.

A mother sat on my feet, nursing her daughter, while we bounced over soft little dunes and exposed rock. With her weight as ballast, and with the sharp metal bar corralling the edge of the pickup, I could sleep while standing. In those parts where the acacia was sparse, where I didn’t have to duck.

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