Title: Brass by Xhenet Aliu
Publisher: Random House
Genre: Contemporary/Historical, Fiction
Length: 304 pages
Book Rating: C
Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley
“A fierce, big-hearted, unflinching debut”* novel about mothers and daughters, haves and have-nots, and the stark realities behind the American Dream
A waitress at the Betsy Ross Diner, Elsie hopes her nickel-and-dime tips will add up to a new life. Then she meets Bashkim, who is at once both worldly and naïve, a married man who left Albania to chase his dreams—and wound up working as a line cook in Waterbury, Connecticut. Back when the brass mills were still open, this bustling factory town drew one wave of immigrants after another. Now it’s the place they can’t seem to leave. Elsie, herself the granddaughter of Lithuanian immigrants, falls in love quickly, but when she learns that she’s pregnant, Elsie can’t help wondering where Bashkim’s heart really lies, and what he’ll do about the wife he left behind.
Seventeen years later, headstrong and independent Luljeta receives a rejection letter from NYU and her first-ever suspension from school on the same day. Instead of striking out on her own in Manhattan, she’s stuck in Connecticut with her mother, Elsie—a fate she refuses to accept. Wondering if the key to her future is unlocking the secrets of the past, Lulu decides to find out what exactly her mother has been hiding about the father she never knew. As she soon discovers, the truth is closer than she ever imagined.
Told in equally gripping parallel narratives with biting wit and grace, Brass announces a fearless new voice with a timely, tender, and quintessentially American story.
Brass by Xhenet Aliu explores the relationship of a mother and daughter who both dream of escaping their economically depressed town.
In 1996, Elsie Kuzavinas is working as a waitress at a diner owned by Alabanian immigrants. She has big dreams of earning enough money to purchase a car and leave behind both her dead-end job and hometown. Entering into an affair with Bashkim, whose wife, Agnes did not accompany him to America, an unplanned pregnancy threatens to derail her plans. With promises to help raise their baby, Bashkim convinces her to continue the pregnancy but he leaves before she gives birth. Now following in the path of her own mother (but hopefully minus the drinking problem), Elsie barely ekes out a living for herself and her daughter Luljeta “Lulu”.
Fast forward seventeen years and Lulu also dreams of leaving Waterbury for New York where she plans to attend college. A bit of a social outcast, she is a painfully shy young woman who always follows the rules. When she receives a college rejection letter, she ends up suspended from school following an altercation with the school bully. Lulu decides it is time to learn the truth about the father she has never met.
The storyline weaves back and forth in time so readers get to see both mother and daughter at the same age as they each attempt to reach the same goal: leave their bleak hometown with hopes of a brighter future. Elsie and Bashkim are both a little naive about finances but once Elsie gets pregnant, reality strikes rather quickly. Life with Bashkim is not easy and she is planning a way out when he betrays her. Lulu wants to avoid the same fate as her mother and she has worked hard to ensure she makes it into college, but the rejection letter hits her hard and she becomes a little cynical.
Brass is an unflinchingly honest portrayal of life in a financially depressed town. Xhenet Aliu paints a rather hopeless and depressing future for both Elsie and Lulu as they fail to realize their dreams of escaping the same fate as the previous generations. While the storyline is interesting, the pacing of the story is rather slow. Elsie’s chapters are much easier to read than Lulu’s which are written in second person. The novel comes to a bit of an unexpected conclusion that is a little heartrending.