Rosenfeld, Dalia. “The Worlds We Think We Know: Stories”, Milkweed Editions, 2017.
The Reaches of Hearts and Minds
“The Worlds We Think We Know: Stories” is a collection of very funny and original stories takes readers that move from the United States to Israel and back again as they examine “the mystifying reaches of our own minds and hearts”. We meet characters who are “animated by forces at once passionate and perplexing. At a city zoo, a mismatched couple unite by releasing rare birds. After being mugged in the streets of New York, a professor must repeat the crime to recover his memory and his lost love. In Tel Aviv, a sandstorm rages to expose old sorrows and fears as far away as Ohio. And from an unnamed Eastern European country, a woman haunts the husband who left her behind for a new life in America”. The stories can be puzzling and unsettling as they deal with living in today’s world.
The characters share a collective past, but find it hard to feel rooted in the present. In referencing the Jewish past there is a sense of comfort and continuity. That collective past is Holocaust related with haunted echoes in the texts. The stories often feature a sense of displacement that is sometimes geographic such as Americans in Israel, Russians in America and cosmopolitans in small towns. These are uprooted characters whose actions come about as a result of an inner logic that they themselves are not aware of and is guided by a state of displacement that is sometimes forced and sometimes self-imposed. Boundaries fall away to give the characters a chance to redefine themselves but they often waste that opportunity by engaging in a series of mistakes and/or self-sabotage. Rosenfeld uses humor of which she says she was unaware of and this humor brings vulnerability to the fore with the comedy of human inscrutability coming to the reader.
Rosenfeld’s stories are wonderfully balanced and thus, the characters are unforgettable. She examines Jewish, Israeli, and American experiences by examining their intersections and divergences allowing us to see that the self is separate from culture.