Friday, February 11, 2011

Friday Freebie: Quiet Americans by Erika Dreifus

Congratulations to Alice Cullina, winner of last week's Friday Freebie: The Lover's Dictionary by David Levithan.

I'm happy to announce that this week's book giveaway is one of the best short-story collections I've read in a long time: Quiet Americans by Erika Dreifus.  I've already reviewed the collection (which you can read here) but let me just add a few more comments...

This debut collection is impressive not just for its strength, but also its restraint.  The stories in Quiet Americans are, directly or indirectly, about the Holocaust and its reverberating effects on survivors, but Dreifus wisely keeps the most horrific details ghosting in the background.  We all know what happened in Auschwitz, Treblinka and Dachau, and it is that soundtrack (solemn, sober, haunting) which plays in our heads as we read these stories.

Don't let the subject matter be an off-putting downer, however.  There is beautiful, smart writing to be found at every turn of these pages.  I especially like the way the story "Matrilineal Descent" opens:
Weave back through the decades. Back before the gastarbeiten, before East and West Berlin, before the Wall; back before the Bunker, before the Fuhrer, before Weimar. Keep weaving back, back, back; back before the railway car at Compiegne and before the Archduke was shot at Sarajevo, and you will find yourself in the time when the Kaiser still headed his empire. Then situate yourself more solidly in a small village of seven hundred souls, deep in a valley dotting the edge of the Black Forest. Altheim. And remind yourself that no one knew, then, about Zoloft.
I love how that repetition of "back, back, back" works as hypnosis to put us under the spell of literary time travel.  And that's what Quiet Americans does at nearly every turn: it takes us back to a place and a time which, try as we might*, we can never forget.

If you'd like the chance to win a *signed* copy of Quiet Americans, all you have to do is answer this ridiculously-easy question:

What beloved American novel has Dreifus read "at least once or twice a year" since she was a child, according to the Q & A at her website?

Email your answer to

Put FRIDAY FREEBIE in the e-mail subject line.  One entry per person, please.  Please e-mail me the answer, rather than posting it in the comments section.  Despite its name, the Friday Freebie runs all week long and remains open to entries until the contest closes at midnight on Feb. 17--at which time I'll draw the winning name. I'll announce the lucky reader on Feb. 18.

*But, really, we should never forget.

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