The Immigrant’s Refrigerator
by ELENA GEORGIOU
reviewed by NATHAN LESLIE
GenPop Books, 2018
As we all know, immigration has become a flashpoint for twenty-first century political diatribes and turmoil—and much worse. In this context, Elena Georgiou's The Immigrant's Refrigerator comes as a welcome survey of characters from this milieu. Georgiou, author of two previous collections of poetry and editor at Tarpaulin Sky Press, offers as her first short story collection twelve astute works directly or indirectly about the immigrant experience. Readers will take comfort to know that the theme of migration is seldom didactically employed in this collection, and often Georgiou handles it with poise. Frankly, I find short story collections with a unifying leitmotif a comfort; it reveals focus and discipline on the part of the author.
In The Immigrant’s Refrigerator, Georgiou's straightforward prose and first-person point of view are suitable for characters who are often in transition. The direct first-person voices also add immediacy and texture to these stories. For instance, in "Gazpacho," the opening story, an immigrant living along the U.S.–Mexico border sells gazpacho from buckets at the train station. What our protagonist really wants is to find his father. Movingly, this twenty-year-old also takes care of his "road cousins" by feeding them the cold soup. The first-person is also well-suited to the title story about a gay escort/MFA student dealing with the aftereffects of terrorism and violence in Northern Ireland. The first sentence features the words "bomb, blast, dead." This sets the stage for an effective inner exploration.
Two of my favorite stories in the collection, however, appear toward the end of The Immigrant's Refrigerator. In "Pork is Love," a Nigerian rebels against the strictures of society in Vermont; it starts with pork fat. Though the story offers unexpected turns, I won't ruin the twist in this review. "Osman's Window," perhaps the collection's most politically compelling story, as well as the most tender, gives the reader a glimpse into a refugee relocation center in Maine. The Somalian protagonist is introduced to American customs and hospitality on a small scale by virtue of Rita, a kind-hearted Venezuelan-American. Interestingly, Georgiou has written both "Pork is Love" and "Osman's Window" in the third person, which goes against the grain of the first three-fourths of her collection. Though at first I missed the first-person testimonies in “Pork is Love” and “Osman’s Window,” the author handles these voices with ease, and in fact I prefer their directness to that of the first-person stories preceding them, whose voices do unfortunately accumulate into a kind of sameness.
Georgiou is a wonderfully empathetic writer, and one who seems fascinated by the variety of characters and voices presented by twenty-first century America (and Great Britain). As a sidebar, I also noticed frequent musical and gastronomical motifs. The variety of characters is mostly a boon to contemporary readers, though it is not always clear from which country the protagonist originates in some of the stories in the middle of this collection. Additionally, in Georgiou's next book I'd also like to see her delve into the voices of characters who are less consistently virtuous. The good intentions of the author in this project is often mirrored by characters who are mostly good-natured. Though this makes for a heartwarming read, it is a bit too heartwarming at times for this reader.
Overall, The Immigrant's Refrigerator is a compelling read and certainly a worthwhile short story collection to consider as a counterpoint to the xenophobic rhetoric of the Trump administration, for starters. What I especially appreciate about this collection is Georgiou’s empathy; she is able to shrewdly step outside of her own experience and place herself in the shoes of others. This also takes a subtle imaginative faculty. As Ekaterinia from the wonderfully sensory "How Now" realizes, "Pity for one another is something immigrants have in abundance, but they hide it from view." This collection valiantly shows us the thoughts and feelings of folks who are often dismissed by the Fox News contingent as mere interlopers. In The Immigrant’s Refrigerator, all are welcome at the table.
NATHAN LESLIE's ten books of fiction include Three Men, Root and Shoot, and Sibs and Drivers, among others. He is also the author of The Tall Tale of Tommy Twice, a novel, and the poetry collection Night Sweat. Nathan’s work has appeared in hundreds of literary magazines including Boulevard, Shenandoah, North American Review, Hotel Amerika, and Cimarron Review. Nathan was series editor for the Best of the Web anthology 2008 and 2009 (Dzanc Books) and edited fiction for Pedestal Magazine for many years.
Recently Nathan was interviews editor at Prick of the Spindle and over the past two years he wrote a monthly music column for Atticus Review. His work appeared in Best Small Fictions 2016 and earlier this year his work was published in Flash! a flash fiction anthology published by Norton and edited by John Dufresne. He is the founder and host of the monthly Reston Readings series and he teaches in Northern Virginia at Northern Virginia Community College. He is currently the series editor for Best Small Fictions 2019 and is the founding editor of the new literary magazine Maryland Literary Review.
Nathan won the 2019 Washington Writers Publishing House prize for fiction for his book of stories, Hurry Up and Relax, to be published this autumn.