Yiza

Michael Köhlmeier Ruth Martin (Trans­la­tor) Haus Pub­lish­ing (NOVEM­BER) Soft­cover $15.95 (120pp) 978-1-910376-75-1

Foreword Reviews - - Reviews Adult Fiction - MEAGAN LOGSDON

In­ter­wo­ven with the stark re­al­ism of the novel are hints of a fairy tale.

Si­mul­ta­ne­ously bleak and hope­ful, Michael Köhlmeier’s Yiza tra­verses the ex­pan­sive land­scape of hu­man suf­fer­ing as seen through the eyes of dis­placed mi­grant chil­dren.

When lit­tle Yiza is aban­doned in the streets of Ger­many, she finds her­self scooped up into a shel­ter for other mi­grant chil­dren. Though she is fed and clothed and given a bed to sleep in, she is at­tracted to two older boys at the shel­ter, Schamhan and Arian, who con­vince her to run away with them.

The boys treat Yiza like a younger sis­ter, go­ing so far as to break into a house to make sure they have food and sur­vival sup­plies. Pur­sued by the po­lice, Yiza falls ill, and Arian at­tempts to care for her, but when she is taken into cus­tody against their will, the novel cul­mi­nates with the great lengths to which Arian goes to re­join with Yiza.

The novel dis­penses with frills with its child­like nar­ra­tive style. The ab­sence of quo­ta­tion marks, or any punc­tu­a­tion, to set off di­a­logue draws at­ten­tion to a cen­tral theme of the novel—namely, the uni­ver­sal­ity of the hu­man ex­pe­ri­ence. Yiza can­not com­mu­ni­cate di­rectly with any­one in her own lan­guage ex­cept for Schamhan, yet she and Arian form a bond that de­fies their ver­bal lim­i­ta­tions. And so, even though ver­bal ex­changes may be tran­scribed, within the world of the novel, these ex­changes are not ac­tu­ally oc­cur­ring. Rather, it is through a deeper com­mu­ni­ca­tion that Yiza and Arian are able to un­der­stand one an­other.

Poverty and the plight of mi­grants are on full dis­play. The three chil­dren travel across the win­try Ger­man coun­try­side and eke out their con­tin­ued sur­vival in any des­per­ate way they can. In­ter­wo­ven with the stark re­al­ism are hints of a fairy tale. Na­tive Ger­mans—the nurse at the shel­ter, the po­lice, the woman who takes the sick Yiza into care—slip into the nar­ra­tive like ghosts or strange crea­tures en­coun­tered in a blasted ver­sion of Won­der­land. When Arian first meets Yiza, he gives her a thim­ble, a gen­der re­ver­sal of the story of Peter Pan. The novel’s grisly con­clu­sion is rem­i­nis­cent of many a darker fairy tale.

Yiza wraps fe­lic­i­tous so­cial and hu­man­i­tar­ian com­men­tary in the evoca­tive lex­i­con of child­hood in­no­cence.

The story ex­pertly cap­tures the tex­ture and ca­dence of its Ital­ian com­mu­nity: the clipped speech of city work­ers, the stoic ca­ma­raderie at smoky tav­erns, and the com­forts of Nonna’s warm bread and home­made ravi­oli.

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