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January 23, 2018

Review: Brass by Xhenet Aliu

by MK French

Elsie is a waitress at the Betsy Ross Diner in Waterbury, Connecticut. The old brass factory had shut down, so most of the people remaining in the town are poor and with few options. All Elsie can really do is wait tables for the change she gets for tips, hoping to one day move away. Bashkim is the Albanian line cook at the diner, and they fall into a relationship even though she knows he has a wife in Albania. It doesn't feel real until she becomes pregnant, and all of his schemes don't seem to amount to anything. Seventeen years later, Elsie's daughter Luljeta is rejected from NYU and suspended from school on the same day. It makes her feel trapped in Waterbury with her mother, and suddenly the father she never knew seems like the way to discover who she should be.
Amazon affiliate links are used on this site. A free book was provided for an honest review.

January 2018; Random House; 9780399590245
ebook, print (304 pages); women's fiction
The story moves a little slowly at first, with Elsie's first-person narrative as the primary thread and then Luljeta's second-person narrative picking up after a while. We see how quickly Elsie can fall in love and justify things to herself, especially when she sees little future and few options. She settles more than anything else, even if she doesn't see it that way, and others around her are the main agitators in her life. Her actions are more reactions, and she acknowledges that she doesn't want to make major decisions. Luljeta, on the other hand, has always done what was expected of her and has always been what others saw in her. The second person narrative for her is an interesting choice because we become her and are distanced at the same time, which is how Luljeta feels. She feels like an outsider in her own family because she knows nothing about her biological father, and feels just as trapped as Elsie does. There's a sadness that permeates their lives, because they keep reaching for something else to have meaning, only to realize that they have each other in the end.

The American dream is difficult to find here, whether it's a recent immigrant or the descendant of immigrants. The hope of finding it never dies, even so.

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Born and raised in New York City, M.K. French started writing stories when very young, dreaming of different worlds and places to visit. She always had an interest in folklore, fairy tales, and the macabre, which has definitely influenced her work. She currently lives in the Midwest with her husband, three young children, and golden retriever. 

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