2012 Short Fiction Award Winner
selected by Karen Brennan
Excerpt from A Parallel Life
Writing is a difficulty Zorica approaches tongue out, armed with the accoutrements she adores: paper clips, see-through file dividers, pens. The result is a single word: her surname. Although the letters look as if they are ready to be joined to others, they stand shakily alone, as in infant school. This is more or less how Zorica sees herself in the world of French bureaucracy.
French administration is a dragon to Zorica, its huge mouth occasionally, often inexplicably showering hot air and flames in the shape of Orders to Pay and bailiff’s letters. Even a French electricity bill comes with the proviso that if it isn’t paid within a fortnight, it will be increased by 10%. Zorica keeps fearful watch for the dragon, signing her surname painstakingly on checks that others have written for her.
In my absence, the lady who works in the post office accepts two Euros for this job: Zorica prefers her financial affairs to remain secret from our other neighbors. When I write a check for her, we sometimes have to scrap the whole operation while Zorica starts her signature again, tut-tutting loudly.
When you can only write one word, you want it to be perfect.
“This remarkable story traces the life of a Serbian woman, Zorica, marooned for years in Paris, struggling with illiteracy, bureaucracy, aging and the forces of history that have shaped her life. Told by a nameless narrator with an effortless blend of humor and pathos, “A Parallel Life” is structured like a document—eschewing the traditional dramatic action of literary realism and straddling the borderland between fiction and nonfiction. This bold formal choice, as well as the author’s modesty, intelligence, and wonderful writing, contribute to a moving, authentic rendering of a life, which becomes extraordinary in its ordinariness. From start to finish, “A Parallel Life” rings with integrity and wisdom.” —Karen Brennan, judge