Blue Has No South
 by Alex Epstein

Translated from Hebrew by Becka Mara McKay

Clockroot Books
April 2010
First Collection?

Awards won?

"Their love story ended many years ago. He still writes her name as a solution to crossword puzzle clues of suitable length."

Reviewed by Annie Clarkson

Blue Has No South is a collection of 115 short-short fictions, most less than a page long, some only a sentence long.

Perhaps it is best dipped into, like a book of poems. There are plenty to choose from, and these poetic stories could well be described as prose poems. There are many ways to approach a book like this: a diligent read from cover to cover; a flick through the 131 pages to find a random story; a glance down the contents list to find an intriguing title. This is what gives a collection of short-short fiction such appeal.

And Blue Has No South is a very appealing collection: neatly produced from cover design to typeface; by the way its very short pieces of prose sit on the page; its huge list of enticing titles, such as A Short, Sad, and Imaginary Guide to Prague, Minature Metaphors of an Airport, The Bookmark as Murder Weapon, Lullaby for an Old Chess Player. And these stories are crafted perfectly. Each sentence, each word has been chosen and distilled into thoughtful insightful prose.

These stories are fables, puzzles, poems, true stories, warnings, dreams, histories, myths, found stories. They contain characters from history, myth and real life: Karl Brod and Franz Kafka, the writer’s grandparents, Odysseus, Borges, Walter Benjamin, Sisyphus, Sigmund Freud, angels, kings, fairies, poets, immigrants, chess players. Mostly I found the stories clever, philosophical and playful. But, there is also a sadness pervading some of them: the unclaimed love messages in A Wayward Text Message, the ashamed children of The Man Who Lived in an Elevator, and in A Story in Which No Snow Will Fall a man "doesn’t even have someone to turn on the light for."

There are stories in this collection that can be read over and over again, each reading giving more. Gloss for instance, is a story of only nine lines that explores grief better than many full-length novels. Other stories contain lines, images, thoughts that linger, both puzzling and stirring the imagination: "Only the rain never asks for a menu" or "Love is a new stamp in a dead man’s passport." There is an illogical logic about them. As a collection of stories, Blue Has No South, is cerebral as well as sensual; grounded in everyday detail as well as philosophical.

A fascinating aspect of this collection is summed up in the title itself. What is interesting about the title is what is missing: not that blue has a north, but that is has no south. There are echoes of this throughout the collection. What is absent becomes the focus of interest. In Imaginary Street Sweeper we are told "We’ve never seen the old man using the broom"; in Landscape With The Sinking of The Argo there is a crumpled ball of paper on which "were not written the words without which this story does not end". In What was Between Us "nothing separates us anymore". There are "almost-full" stories, novels that are not written, things that happen on days without dates. Typewriters are not used, a man does not have a handkerchief in his pocket, maps have been torn from a phone book, people don’t remember, the future is missing from a photo, Death draws a picture with nothing in it, Freud omits details from his reports, a man drives without knowing where.

The writer plays with this idea of "what is not" and makes us question it. There are whole stories that explore this logic:

The Bookmark as Murder Weapon

Except for the title, any connection between this story and reality is the product of the imagination of the author and the reader.

As readers, we puzzle, we try to work out, and question what is story and what is outside of the story. Perhaps a story can be anything an author and a reader want it to be. It exists on the page and in the imagination, and Blue Has No South is a collection that tests out our notions of story, stretches them, and leaves us wanting to dip back into the collection again and again.

Read ten short stories from this collection on Words Without Borders

Annie Clarkson is a poet and short story writer living in Manchester, UK. Her chapbook of prose poems Winter Hands was published by Shadow Train Books in 2007. Her short fiction has been published in various anthologies, magazines and online, including Brace (Comma), Unsaid Undone and This Road We’re On (Flax Books), Transmission, Ouroboros Review, Succour, Mslexia, Dreamcatcher, Cake, and Pank magazine.

Annie's other Short Reviews: Anthony De Sa "Barnacle Love"

Laura Chester "Rancho Weirdo"

Daniel Grandbois "Unlucky Lucky Days"

Josephine Rowe "East of Here, Close to Water"

Mark Illis "Tender"

"One World Anthology"

Samuel Ligon "Drift and Swerve"

Alice Zorn "Ruins and Relics"

Ailsa Cox "The Real Louise"

Mary Gaitskill "Don't Cry"

Lori Ostlund The Bigness of the World"

"The House of Your Dream"

Ethel Rohan "Cut Through The Bone"
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Alex Epstein was born in Leningrad (St. Petersburg) in 1971 and moved to Israel when he was eight years old. He is the author of four collections of short stories and three novels; his work has been translated into English, French, Spanish, Russian, Greek, Dutch, Croatian, and Italian. In 2003 he was awarded Israel’s Prime Minister’s Prize for Literature. In 2007 he participated in the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa. In 2010 he was writer in residence at the University of Denver. He teaches creative writing in Tel Aviv.

Read an interview with Alex Epstein