A Grave in the Air
Saskatoon: Thistledown Press, 2007.
Sweeping from Nazi Germany in 1939 to the war in Bosnia in the 1990s, A Grave in the Air is a masterful sequence of tales woven around Central and Eastern European themes. These stories of betrayal, luminous studies of introspection and character, and ironic narratives of cultural displacement range across barriers of geography, language and time to bring the reader face-to-face with the relationship between the individual and history.
The two long stories that bracket the collection offer daring fictional interpretations of devastating wars. In the opening story, a British businessman relies on the sporting spirit to try to prevent the outbreak of the Second World War; in the title story, a battered foreign correspondent, shaken by his encounter with a band’s disturbing groupie, must face his own truth about ethnic cleansing in Bosnia.
A Grave in the Air broadens and deepens the vision of Henighan’s earlier work, witnessed in The Places Where Names Vanish and The Streets of Winter. Once again, his understanding of peoples and cultures is as sharp and intuitive as his depictions of the worlds that shape them.
The eight stories in Stephen Henighan’s new collection, A Grave in the Air, ask what it is to be an outsider…Immigrants, refugees, foreign correspondents and others struggle to maintain their identities where the structures which once defined them have altered or disappeared….
The title story brings all these themes skilfully together when Latifa, a young Bosnian Muslim living in Germany, learns her family history from Darryl, a Canadian ex-journalist who would rather forget the former Yugoslavia….The happiness of both depends on their shared journey into memory, however difficult, and on accepting the terrible past.
This is the most poignant of Henighan’s themes: the importance of human action in the face of a terrible political and historical impotence (despite what the reader already knows to be the truth). He is not shy of the twentieth century’s big subjects, and he puts them to effective use. “The Killing Past,” which opens the book, and the title story, which closes it, are especially successful at bringing out the strange tension of tales whose outcomes are already known to us through history…. We ourselves are never foreign to these tales of foreignness.
A Grave in the Air is the product of a serious, unflinching moral imagination. These stories are often uncomfortable reading, but they are important reading, the work of a writer who looks hard at the complexities and rebarbative elements of the multicultural, globalized world we live in.
The eight stories that comprise Stephen Henighan’s new collection of short fiction, most of them set in Central Europe, deftly capture the isolation and disconnectedness of the outsider …These stories resonate with intelligence, thoughtfulness and perceptiveness.
The narrative voices are wide-ranging, from a Polish chambermaid’s ruminations about the cultural cost of exile to a Hungarian immigrant’s alienation from the Anglo elite of Montreal…. These are meaty stories, packed with significant public events…..a wide-angle view, crisply rendered.
Henighan’s strong narrative prose moves…forward with rhythm and purpose….Intriguing.