Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction and Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel and post Colonial Asian Fiction, Yiddish Literature, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality historical novels are some of my Literary Interests

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

"Auslanders" by Paula McGrath

"Auslanders" by Paula McGrath  (2013, 4 pages)

March 1 to March 31

Paula McGrath

Event Resources-If you would like to participate in Irish Short Story Month Year III in any fashion please e-mail me 

One of the things I like best about hosting Irish Short Story Month is the opportunity it affords of discovering new to me writers that I want to learn more about.  Paula McGrath, from Dublin, certainly falls in that category.   

"Auslanders" is set in a farmers market in Chicago in the summer time.  The story is told through the eyes of a market stall owner.  The farmer's market is a place where Chicago urban dwellers can buy fresh produce and the market is a place where people like to stroll and look at all of the beautiful produce.  The residents of Chicago know that a harsh winter will soon be coming.  The market manager was raised by German immigrants, his mother was a survivor of a camp, maybe a death camp, maybe a refugee camp.  His father wanted his wife to speak only English to the son, I think the father is American, the mother German.  There is a great deal to be garnered from these wonderful lines.   

"He hadn't known he could speak German until he went to college. It sounded like an easy credit: German For Beginners. He knew a few words already. Only, when he got to class he discovered that he knew more than a few; he was fluent. Crazy. His Mom was supposed to speak English to him. His Dad had been emphatic. No son of his was going to be an ignorant immigrant, going around talking pigeon English. It was time to fo'get about all that. War. Camps. All that. His Dad didn't want to know about his Mom's all that. But his Dad was out all day selling his used-cars, so his Mom spoke German with him by day then switched to English at dinner, until he started school. He never slipped up once. He got his easy credit from a skeptical college teacher, but beyond that it changed nothing. He never even mentioned it to his Mom. For all he knew, she had forgotten how to speak it herself."

 His living depends on his ability to sell and this means he has cultivated an ability to size up people who approach his market stand.  A couple with a baby in a stroller approach his stand, speaking German.  Of course they have no conception that the market man understands German.  He understands everything they are saying and he tries to imagine their lives.   He feels they are kind of "fed up" with each other.  He hears them argue over money and her out of state job.  The wife tells the man that on his salary alone they can never buy a house.  The man is annoyed with her and pushes the baby stroller toward a park.  The man starts a conversation with the woman.  He senses, maybe he is imagining this, that she is lonely and he flirts with her a little, he also knows it will increase sales.  

The man has to leave her to wait on other customers and the German man returns.  I will quote enough from the story to let you get a feel for the wonderful prose of McGrath.

'But he can hear the poisonous gutturals from the other side of the stall'. The man is saying something colloquial, something like, up to your old tricks again. It must be the verboten subject because she jolts back as if he has hit her, shrinks back into her shirt, her hair. His guess: one of them was already married when they got together. There would have been the sms-es full of longing and stroking and flattery, then the clandestine couplings. Then – ba-ba-ba-boom – she's pregnant, accident, design, whatever. They're stuck now. He's tired of them as they are of each other, wants them gone. He drifts back to where they are standing.
We have no idea if these conjecture are right or not.  I do get the feeling the couple's relationship will not last.

("Auslander", in my understanding is a German expression for "foreigner".  It is a not entirely polite expression , similar to "farang" in Thailand or "Kano" in the Philippines.)

"Auslanders" by Paula McGrath is a very interesting well crafted story.  It is a story of the immigrant experience, about being a kind of cultural spectator, almost a voyeur.  His insights about those who come to his market are interesting, whether or not they are accurate is of course part of what makes this story so fascinating.  

You can read it here.  

You can learn more about the author and her work on her very interesting blog.

Author supplied Bio

Bio: I am a currently a student on the MFA at University College, Dublin. Publications recent and forthcoming can be found in mslexia, ROPES Galway, Necessary Fiction, Eclectica, The Ofi Press, Dublin Review of Books (drb), and The Toucan Online. My blog: and I tweet @ViewReView1.

I look forward to reading much more of her work in the future.  

She has agreed to do a Q and A session for Irish Short Story Month so look for that soon.


Nancy Cudis said...

I enjoyed reading this story very much. There is wit, humor and perceptiveness that hooked me throughout the short story.

View ReView said...

Thanks Nancy, I'm glad you enjoyed it. I hope to have the stories that go with it finished in the next few months.