“I write and that way rid myself of me and then at last I can rest.”
—Clarice Lispector, A Breath of Life
1:05 a.m.: The rain starts. I arrive; so close to her I can breathe the rain mixed with the sour smell of her scalp.
1:13 a.m.: Fighting against the slowdown of the pills, C sits in front of the dressing table and hates what she sees: an ancient face with new furrows, an aged reflection of whom she thought she still was, a worsened version of herself. She can’t leave the house tomorrow as she is now: swollen face, short eyelashes, brittle hair stuck to her scalp. Grey spots mark her pale forehead like stains on the face of a full moon—a reminder of the fire in the apartment that almost extinguished her years before.
Papá announced, “Maria, I’m going to war,” and stubbed his cigarette out in the ashtray. Mamã, clearing the table, gave her usual start. She stood stranded in the kitchen doorway, a dirty plate in each hand.
Going to war meant going out in the dead of night to David’s bar, playing hide-and-seek with military patrols. Our lot’s supporters gathered there after hours, drank a few beers, exchanged questionable information and reliable rumors. It had been the same every night for the last three weeks, since their lot retook the city.
After dinner, Papá would say, “Maria, I’m going to war,” and Mamã would give a start, try to talk him out of it, remind him of martial law and the curfew.
Then, out of desperation, she’d say, “At least wait for the shooting to die down.”
Meron Hadero is a finalist for The Restless Books Prize for New Immigrant Writing.
Original version published in McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern Issue 52, finalist for the 2019 Caine Prize for African Writing
When I met Herr Weill, I was a lanky 10-year-old, a fish out of water in –, Iowa, a small college town surrounded by fields in every direction. My family had moved to the US a few weeks earlier from Ethiopia via Berlin, so I knew no English, but was fluent in Amharic and German. I’d speak those sometimes to strangers or just mumble under my breath to say what was on my mind, never getting an answer until the day I met Herr Weill.
Natali Petricic is a finalist for The Restless Books Prize for New Immigrant Writing.
We were the only family in the village to spend a few dinars on a photo. This was right after the second World War. Dalmatia was freed of Italian rule, and we were all poor, but I had a feeling I’d need that picture one day. I sat on a boulder, holding little Tomislav, bundled in woolen blankets, not more than a year old. Branko stood beside me, his hand on my shoulder. He was eight. A pile of wilted dark leaves were strewn around the large rock. Even though it was cold, I made Branko wear his good shorts with suspenders. His long pants were worn thin and patched at the knees. We all stared ahead, even Tomislav. It was as if he understood something important was happening and this wasn’t a moment for fussing.
Aloysius is missing. The thought flickers through my mind each time I look at the photo. I never mention the baby I lost. Why burden others? But I think about him every time I hold the black and white, willing him to appear.
My sister-in-law criticized me about the photo, cackling in the fields with others. “She spent money on a photo, while he slaves away on the boats. My brother’s wife, from the other island…” She began all of her laments about me like that. As if in the polje voices don’t echo. As if I were deaf. As if sooner or later, one by one, the villagers wouldn’t absorb me as one of their own in spite of themselves, as people do in these parts. They called themselves Catholics—church-goers, all of them. In my village, they warn of the self-proclaimers. If you do something, just do it. Don’t announce all over the hamlet that you never miss church. Don’t announce the amount you place on the plate passed around.
Alisa Koyrakh is a finalist for The Restless Books Prize for New Immigrant Writing.
On February third, 1966, a Soviet spacecraft reached the moon. Zhenya read about it on February fifth. The newspaper lay on the stool next to their bed for two days before she looked at it. The headline: The Moon Speaks Russian.
Now in its fifth year, the Restless Books Prize for New Immigrant Writing supports the voices of immigrant writers whose works straddle cultural divides, embrace the multicultural makeup of our society, and interrogate questions of identity in a global society. This prize awards $10,000 and publication with Restless Books to a writer who has produced a work that addresses the effects of global migration on identity. This year’s judges, Dinaw Mengestu, Achy Obejas, and Ilan Stavans, have selected the below five finalists. Click on the links in each section to read excerpts from their books.
Read the “Restless Books Prize for New Immigrant Writing” Finalists
Justin Haynes is a finalist for The Restless Books Prize for New Immigrant Writing.
Zaboca Clearing’s zabocas were always ripe and ready, on season or off; we tried not to think about this as we added them to our stews and salads. We suspected a tortured past with the silk cotton tree, some twenty yards beyond the wooden picnic tables, that we know better than to mess with. But the oddest thing of all about Zaboca Clearing, beyond the perma-green grass and the silk cotton tree, or even what might be buried beneath, was the pervading smell of oranges that floated through the Clearing even though there’s no oranges planted anywhere near Zaboca Clearing. It confounded us, raised short hairs on our necks and goosefleshed forearms. Tingled the edges of our ears and moistened tear ducts. It itched our collarbones. All of us except Binary Clem, who could never smell the oranges because of the beating he’d once received for not paying off gambling debts that wrote off his senses of smell and taste and the ability to speak in anything other than ones and zeroes like a corrupted code-breaker, which we suspected was the final straw that chased off his wife Anisa, her no longer able to understand the sweet-nothings whispered into her ears. Binary Clem would watch us cover our noses with the tops of our t-shirts, tank tops and mesh shirts whenever the smell would overwhelm us and would ask, 1-0-0-1-1-0-0-1-1?
Sindya Bhanoo is a finalist for The Restless Books Prize for New Immigrant Writing.
“Malliga Homes” first appeared in Granta.
Mr. Swaminathan died suddenly, as he was walking back to his flat from the Veg dining hall after dinner. He was ahead of me on the path, and I saw him slow down. His gait changed from a fast stride to a slower, hunched walk. His left arm went limp. He lost his footing and crumpled to the ground. If I had not been swift, I imagine he would have hit his head on the cement. There would have been blood. But I caught up with him. Before he fell, I squatted to the ground and put my hands out, and his head fell directly into my open palms. Carefully, I slipped my hands out from behind his head, set it gently on the cement and sat at his side talking to him. His left eye looked lower than his right. His left cheek sagged, as if it might slide off.
The wine finally whittling at the burr of her thoughts, Alice read descriptions and assessed fabric content before selecting her size. Partial to leafy green and navy blue, cautious of dressing as a lamb when she knew she was close to mutton and yet not ready for Eileen Fisher–baggy old lady, her fifty-one years compounded the shopping challenge her considerable height posed. Even if she wasn’t actually buying, the clothes must potentially fit if the process were to give her any satisfaction. The virtual acquisition required less than possession but more than pure abstraction. The clothes and shoes and bags must be plausible purchases were she to decide to purchase them—always a possibility. But not even wine, an empty apartment, the tiresome BBC drama of Brexit unpardonably mixed with the devastating news of another Ebola outbreak overlain with repeated clicks of not-quite-complete acquisition could keep her from thinking about the dog.