‘The UnAmericans’ by Molly Antopol

‘The UnAmericans’ by Molly Antopol  (2014) – 258 pages


Listen carefully to the stories you hear from your relatives and friends.  Some day a few of those stories might make great fiction.

The stories in ‘The UnAmericans’ seem to be the result of listening closely to family stories.  Some of the stories go back to the old European world while others take place in the modern world of the United States and Israel.  These stories capture the poignancy and emotion of the lives of the people in them over time.

Molly Antopol is one of the 2013 ‘5 Under 35’ fiction writers selected by the National Book Foundation.

All of the stories in ‘The UnAmericans’ are strong, but in order to give you a better idea what this collection is like, I will focus on a single story.  In ‘The Quietest Man’, a father finds out that his 24 year old daughter has written a play about her family which is to be performed in New York City.  The father is terribly anxious to find out what is in the play, because he is divorced from his wife and estranged from his daughter. When his daughter visits him, he recalls times over the years when he was less than a good father  The story goes all the way back to Prague, Czechoslovakia when he and his wife were young, and their daughter was born.   It tells about the reason they left Prague, their life in the states, the marriage falling apart, the strained relationship between father and daughter.  As the story ends, we find out the plot of the daughter’s play.

When one reads this story, one can’t help but think of the young Molly Antopol writing stories about her own family.  I suppose most authors face this dilemma of including the traits or the past of people close to them in their fiction.

Some of the stories begin in Belarus or in Kiev, Ukraine and wind up in either the United States or Israel.  Except for the Native Americans, most of us who live in the United States are UnAmericans in that the stories of our families begin long ago and far away. If there are any pictures from the old times left, these ancient family members may bear an uncanny resemblance to us.

Each of the stories has as much substance as a novella, yet is only about 30 pages long.   These stories in ‘The UnAmericans’ are so well-written and moving, they reaffirm my faith in the short story form.  Adam Johnson describes Molly Antopol as “a writer of seismic talent”, and I agree.

Molly Antopol is at work on a novel tentatively titled ‘The After Party’.

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