For some reason I have never enjoyed the short story form (excepting Conan Doyle) but I read Ninety-nine stories of God by Joy Williams last year and now I am a big fan of the short short story form. The stories work like magic; your brain telling you a story based on snippets. McMillan’s My mother and the Hungarians, and other small fictions is a great example. It is a collection of brief stories all looking at the Hungarian refugee experience in New Zealand in the 1950s – some from the point of view of the author as a young girl (in the home where her mother billets some of the refugees), and others from the point of view of the Hungarian men. The short short form pushes the prose towards the poetic, and I wasn’t surprised to read that McMillan is a published poet. Each story is complete but as a whole they tell you a whole novel’s worth of narrative. We read of the experiences of the girl and her family, mainly but not solely relating to her mother and the Hungarians. And the experiences of the Hungarians in the home – their stories being about their coming to terms with a new land and language here, their brief memories of ‘there’ – the October Revolution, the destruction and pillaging of the statue of Stalin, the seemingly endless list of peoples to victimise – and of the slight insecurity about whether they really have come to a new place. Both points of view are a mix of sophistication and naivety – the Hungarians placed back in an almost childlike unknowing of their environment, and their presence exposing the girl to a world she might not otherwise have experienced. It even manages to give you a run-down of what happened to some of the refugees many years later – just brilliant. Give short short fiction a go – especially My mother and the Hungarians – they are quick reads!
Thanks Alyson for your kind review!