WE WERE BROTHERS. By Barry Moser. Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill. 180 pages. $22.
Barry and Tommy Moser seem to have had a typical childhood in many ways: Sometimes they played together, sometimes they ignored each other and sometimes there was no one they’d rather kill than each other.
Barry Moser tells a few disjointed stories about growing up in 1930s and ’40s Tennessee, some about himself, some about his brother and other members of his family, and quite a few about racism. These snippets are by turns ordinary, touching, violent, disgusting or, even the stories of racism, have a bit of humor.
Quite a few of these stories are told without any foundation; it’s hard to understand how their stepsister’s living arrangements say anything about their mother’s character when the reader didn’t know the stepsister existed to begin with.
The last few pages are truly touching, brothers in their later years showing each other true brotherly love, even as much of it focuses, again, on racism. But there are few insights in this book, nothing that seems extraordinary for the time and place. It’s easy to tell that this is a very emotional work for the author, but it’s told in such snippets that there’s no building of an emotional connection for the reader.
Reviewer Carol Edwards is a freelance editor and farmer living in Marlboro County.
COUNTRY OF RED AZALEAS. By Domnica Radulescu. Twelve. 320 pages. $25.
Domnica Radulescu, who came to the U.S. from Romania in 1983 as a political refugee, has crafted a compelling tale of two friends, one Serbian, one Bosnian, who grew up together in the former Yugoslavia.
Lara and Marija became friends in Belgrade. Throughout their childhood, neither gave much thought to their ethnicities, but in 1992, when the young women were in college and war broke out, they were forced to pick sides. Lara ran away to Washington, D.C., with a handsome American. Marija went home to Sarajevo and dedicated herself to journalism.
From then on, their paths couldn’t be more different. As Lara makes a comfortable, middle-class life for herself as an academic, a wife and the mother of a daughter, Marija disappears into the confusing and frightening grip of war. It is decades before the friends meet again.
Radulescu’s prose is fluid and languid, even when she’s describing the madness of war. Her pacing is perfect as Lara watches her marriage fall apart and searches for her missing friend.
Lara describes seeing Marija again: “I felt shreds and shreds of my heart and memory become loose and fall off me like I was an animal shedding its skin.”
The book’s only flaw is the ending, which feels entirely too neat for such a big, messy story.
Reviewer Kim Curtis writes for the Associated Press.