The Immigrant’s Refrigerator
Fiction. Short Stories. GenPop Books, 2018
* SPD Fiction Bestseller
* Finalist for the Institute for Immigration Research New American Voices Award
If luck is on an author’s side, a book reaches its audience at the right time. Elena Georgiou’s The Immigrant’s Refrigerator can confidently make this claim. Populated with a cast of characters that shine the light on what it means to be an outsider in the early part of the 21st century, this story collection takes its reader into the private lives of those who have entered a country legally, others who were forced to enter illegally, and the rest who call a country home as a result of birth; characters searching for what they need to sustain them on their journeys towards a future that will not only be a place of refuge, but also one of hope.
A Lambda Literary Award–winning poet, Georgiou portrays immigrants to America, both legal and illegal, in heartfelt, no-nonsense prose. The opening story, “Gazpacho,” features a man in a Mexican border town who provides soup for boys heading to America by train (“el tren de la muerte”) — or being forced to return. For money, he drives a hearse, frequently repatriating children’s bodies from America — 257 so far; “each time, …a small country turns to dust inside me.” In another piece, white employees at a confectionary find that listening to news about police shootings “with a dark-skinned man — a refugee! — in their midst had made their hands clumsier,” and an MFA student from Northern Ireland who works for a gay escort service can’t be friends “with anyone who had not known troops standing on the corner of the same road as the house in which they were born.” It’s indeed brutally hard to imagine that kind of experience, but Georgiou brings it closer. Verdict: A keen, sobering work. Ten percent of profits will go to the Vermont Refugee Resettlement Center.
—Barbara Hoffert, Library Journal: “The Art of the Short Story: 16 New Collections Reveal the Best of a Flourishing Genre”
Although immigrants aren’t the sole characters in Georgiou’s collection, they are the thread that binds its 12 quiet, yet powerful stories. Many are fleeing violence, like the Irish writer in the title story who’s running from the war that tore apart his family, or the Somali man living in Maine after years spent in a refugee camp. But some are just trying to fulfill the promise of a better life, like the Bolivian woman forced to work as a cleaning woman and a stripper to provide for her child… Just as often, American characters in their own homeland … are searching for the elusive thing called home or, more likely, simple human connection. It is this mutual longing that shows characters’ shared humanity and the compassion and kindness that can help overcome differences. Georgiou’s timely collection will appeal to any reader interested in immigration issues.
Elena Georgiou’s exquisite collection could not be more timely. At a moment when America’s political response to The Other is triggering a national crisis of conscience, these poignant stories remind us of the vital role that human compassion plays in bridging ethnic, cultural, and socioeconomic divides. Inside The Immigrant’s Refrigerator, the foreign and the familiar share and trade shelf space. Unspeakable sorrows and distant joys appear in the form of bacon, hummus, homemade bread. Papaya salad. Whatever the delicacy, Georgiou’s secret sauce is the essential goodness of humanity. Citizens of Maine nourish Somali immigrants with handcrafted chocolates. A refugee from Niger comforts his grieving host in Vermont by teaching her to savor Brie. Sustenance acquires profound meaning in these tales of endurance, hope, and the abiding power of quiet generosity.
—Aimee Liu, author of Flash House and Cloud Mountain
The Immigrant’s Refrigerator is a quietly devastating collection of stories about loners, craving love and connection, trying to survive in a world where war is always raging somewhere and happiness is a phantom of the future. That these loners are Americans as often as they are immigrants and refugees is this collection’s greatest strength. Elena Georgiou’s voice is quirky and surprising; her ability to turn a phrase upside down invites us to experience the world and ourselves in a new way. There are no easy answers in The Immigrant’s Refrigerator; Georgiou’s focus is on tipping a moment over the edge to find the broken pieces of our shared humanity. And yet, and still, it is a celebration of life in all of its scars and joys, chance and invention, awe and longing to be seen, and, over and over, a testament to the tender, transformative power of acceptance and love.
— Rahna Reiko Rizzuto, author of Hiroshima in the Morning and Why She Left Us
Elena Georgiou is a dazzlingly good writer. The thirteen stories in The Immigrant’s Refrigerator are stirring, wise, and keenly alert to the longings and contradictions that impel their beguiling characters. I loved this collection.
—John McManus, author of Fox Tooth Heart and Bitter Milk