In honor of Edith Pearlman’s Binocular Vision being named a finalist for the National Book Award in fiction, we’re offering a taste of her stories. Every weekday morning between now and November 16, the day of the ceremony, we’ll post an excerpt from her collection to the blog. Enjoy!
From “If Love Were All”
The children came, wave after wave of them. Polish children, Austrian children, Hungarian children, German children. Some came like parcels bought from the governments that withheld passports from their parents. These children wore coats, and each carried a satchel. Some came in unruly bands, having lived like squirrels in the mountains or like rats by the rivers. Some came escorted by social workers who couldn’t wait to get rid of them. Few understood English. Some knew only Yiddish. Some had infectious diseases. Some seemed feebleminded, but it turned out that they had been only temporarily enfeebled by hardship.
They slept for a night or two in a seedy hotel near Waterloo station. Sonya and Mrs. Levinger, who directed the agency, stayed in the hotel, too, intending to sleep—they were always tired, for the bombing had begun. But the women failed to sleep, for the children—not crying; they rarely cried—wandered through the halls, or hid in closets, smoking cigarettes, or went up and down the lift. The next day, or the next day but one, Sonya and Mrs. Levinger escorted them to their quarters in the countryside, and deposited them with stout farm families, these Viennese who had never seen a cow; or left them in hastily assembled orphanages staffed with elderly schoolteachers, these Berliners who had known only the tender hands of nursemaids; or stashed them in a bishop’s palace, these Polish children for whom Christians were the devil; the Viennese kids might have found the palace suitable; the Hungarians would have formed a vigorous troupe within the orphanage; the little Poles, familiar with chickens, might have become comfortable on the farms. But the billets rarely matched the children. The organization took what it could get. After the children were settled, however uneasily, Sonya and Mrs. Levinger rode the train back to London, Mrs. Levinger returning to her husband and Sonya to solitude.
Excerpted from “If Love Were All” from Binocular Vision: New & Selected StoriesCopyright © 2011 by Edith Pearlman. Used by permission of Lookout Books, an imprint of the Department of Creative Writing at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.