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Milk and Other Stories by Simon Fruelund, translated by K.E. Semmel

Source: K.E. Semmel, translator
Paperback, 110 pages
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Milk and Other Stories by Simon Fruelund, translated by K.E. Semmel is a collection of short stories translated from Danish to English.  This slim collection is not only nuanced, but powerful in how it uses stripped down prose to examine complexities in human relationships.  From the brothers who clearly have become estranged and strive to rekindle their brotherhood to a young poet coming to terms with a professor who is not as he remembers, these short stories are subtle enough to get under the skin and powerful enough to make an impression on the psyche.  Fruelund’s stories are short but no less indelible than a well-written novel; and at no point in the English translation will readers feel that something isn’t right — in fact, these stories seem both distinctly Danish and English.

Many of these stories seem to touch upon what the cover suggests — spilt milk.  The idiom everyone knows is “There’s no point crying over spilt milk,” but how true is that saying…should we not cry over the adversity we face and simply move on or is it okay to dwell and cry over those events even if they cannot be changed.  For instance, in “What Is It?,” a father helps his son from a second marriage move out of his shared apartment and into another, thinking all the while about failed marriages — of which the father has had three — and how similar patterns can play out in the lives of loved ones.  What advice could he possibly offer his son; how do they relate knowing that the father left his mother for a third marriage; and how does the son move on from one relationship to the next without questioning it?  Although some of these questions may not be answered, Fruelund provides the reader with enough to chew on.

From ” Hair”:  “Frands stands and goes out to the yard.  Yellow apples lie in the grass.  He walks to the garage looking for something to sit on and finds an old recliner.  With some effort he hauls it outside.  He sits facing the house and takes a nip from the bottle.  He lets his eyes wander over the house’s whitewashed facade.  Even in the half-dark it seems stained and porous, and he can see spots where the plaster has been cracked by frost.  The real estate agent had talked for a long time about how charming the house was.  An artist villa, he’d called it.  With space for children.  It was exactly what they were looking for, Mette had said.” (page 40 ARC)

Milk and Other Stories by Simon Fruelund, translated by K.E. Semmel, is about ordinary people facing some pretty typical situations, but what makes each one unique is the parts outside the stories that we cannot see and that are only hinted at.  Fruelund explores not only jealousy and infidelity, but also regret and many other complex emotions that each of experiences with not only family but wives, husbands, lovers, friends, and neighbors.

About the Author:

Since the publication of his first book in 1997, Simon Fruelund has been one of Denmark’s most delightfully entertaining writers. He possesses a rare gift for creative reinvention. From his early realist-inspired stories (“Tide,” “What is It?” and “Hair”) to his later “pointillist” work (“Man on the Bus,” “Civil Twilight”), Fruelund finds new ways to express and shape his ever-developing artistic vision. He is the author of five books, among them Mælk (1997) and Panamericana (2012). His work has been translated into Italian, Swedish, and English, and his short stories have appeared in a number of magazines across the U.S, including World Literature Today, Redivider, and Absinthe.  For nine years Fruelund worked as an editor at Denmark’s largest publishing house, Gyldendal, but is now writing full time.

About the Translator:

K.E. Semmel is a writer and translator whose work has appeared in Ontario Review, the Washington Post, Aufgabe, The Brooklyn Review, The Bitter Oleander, and elsewhere. He is the Publications & Communications Manager of The Writer’s Center, an independent nonprofit literary organization based in Bethesda, MD that offers over 300 workshops in writing annually and hosts around 50 literary events a year. It was recently named by Poets & Writers Magazine as one of 8 “places to go nationwide for writing classes”. For his work translating Simon Fruelund’s fiction, he has received a translation grant from the Danish Arts Council.

This is my 75th book for the 2013 New Authors Challenge.

Mailbox Monday #226

Mailbox Monday (click the icon to check out the new blog) has gone on tour since Marcia at A Girl and Her Books, formerly The Printed Page passed the torch.  June’s host is Dolce Bellezza.

The meme allows bloggers to share what books they receive in the mail or through other means over the past week.

Just be warned that these posts can increase your TBR piles and wish lists.

Here’s what I received:

1.  Waiting to Be Heard by Amanda Knox from my mother.

Amanda Knox spent four years in a foreign prison for a crime she did not commit.

In the fall of 2007, the 20-year-old college coed left Seattle to study abroad in Italy, but her life was shattered when her roommate was murdered in their apartment.

After a controversial trial, Amanda was convicted and imprisoned. But in 2011, an appeals court overturned the decision and vacated the murder charge. Free at last, she returned home to the U.S., where she has remained silent, until now.

Filled with details first recorded in the journals Knox kept while in Italy, Waiting to Be Heard is a remarkable story of innocence, resilience, and courage, and of one young woman’s hard-fought battle to overcome injustice and win the freedom she deserved.

With intelligence, grace, and candor, Amanda Knox tells the full story of her harrowing ordeal in Italy—a labyrinthine nightmare of crime and punishment, innocence and vindication—and of the unwavering support of family and friends who tirelessly worked to help her win her freedom.

2.  Gracianna by Trini Amador for review with Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours in August.

Gracianna is inspired by true events in the life of Trini Amador’s great-grandmother, Gracianna Lasaga. As an adult, Amador was haunted by the vivid memory of finding a loaded German Luger tucked away in a nightstand while wandering his great-grandmother’s home in Southern California. He was only four years old at the time, but the memory remained and he knew he had to explore the story behind the gun.

Decades later, Amador would delve into the remarkable odyssey of his Gracianna’s past, a road that led him to an incredible surprise. In Gracianna, Amador weaves fact and fiction to tell his great-grandmother’s story.

Gracianna bravely sets off to Paris in the early 1940s–on her way to America, she hopes–but is soon swept into the escalation of the war and the Nazi occupation of Paris. After chilling life-and-death struggles, she discovers that her missing sister has surfaced as a laborer in Auschwitz. When she finds an opportunity to fight back against the Nazis to try to free her sister, she takes it–even if it means using lethal force.

3.  Loteria by Mario Alberto Zambrano for review with TLC Book Tours in July.

With her older sister Estrella in the ICU and her father in jail, eleven-year-old Luz Castillo has been taken into the custody of the state. Alone in her room, she retreats behind a wall of silence, writing in her journal and shuffling through a deck of lotería cards. Each of the cards’ colorful images—mermaids, bottles, spiders, death, and stars—sparks a random memory.

Pieced together, these snapshots bring into focus the joy and pain of the young girl’s life, and the events that led to her present situation. But just as the story becomes clear, a breathtaking twist changes everything.

4.  City of Hope by Kate Kerrigan for review from the publisher.

The heartrending and inspiring sequel to Ellis Island, Kate Kerrigan’s City of Hope is an uplifting story of a woman truly ahead of her time

When her beloved husband suddenly dies, young Ellie Hogan decides to leave Ireland and return to New York, where she worked in the 1920s. She hopes that the city will distract her from her anguish. But the Great Depression has rendered the city unrecognizable. Gone are the magic and ambiance that once captured Ellie’s imagination.

Plunging headfirst into a new life, Ellie pours her passion and energy into running a refuge for the homeless. Her calling provides the love, support, and friendship she needs in order to overcome her grief—until, one day, someone Ellie never thought she’d see again steps through her door. It seems that even the vast Atlantic Ocean isn’t enough to keep the tragedies of the past from catching up with her.

5.  Milk and Other Stories by Simon Fruelund, translated by K.E. Semmel for review from the translator.

The 14 stories in this collection display the often quiet, inconspicuous way in which terrible truths and experiences are intimated: the death of a sailboarder makes a widower see deeper into love and loss; a young poet visits his former teacher only to discover he is literally not the person he used to be; a middle-aged man glimpses the terrible humdrum of his third marriage as his son embarks on a new chapter in his life. Conveyed without grandeur or pathos, the revelations in these minimalist stories demonstrate clearly and effectively Fruelund’s gift of subtlety and nuance; like scenes from life, characters’ dramas are played out in brief but brilliant flashes. Ranging across the wide arc of human experience, from the comic to the tragic, each piece explores the complex emotions of the human heart.

What did you receive?