Alta Ifland grew up in Romania under Communism, immigrating to the United States in 1991. After writing in French for many years – Voice of Ice, her bilingual (French-English) book of prose poems won the 2008 Louis Guillaume Prize for Prose Poems – Elegy is her first work written directly into English.

Short Story Collections

Elegy for a Fabulous World
(Ninebark Press, 2009)

reviewed by Elizabeth Rutherford-Johnson

Interview with Alta ifland

The Short Review: How long did it take you to write all the stories in your collection?

Alta Ifland: About three years, but the initial collection was considerably bigger than the book that was published.

TSR: Did you have a collection in mind when you were writing them?

AI: No, in spite of the fact that some of the stories have recurrent characters and are thematically linked. For me a story is a totality, a universe in itself, and writing a new one is like creating the world anew.

TSR: How did you choose which stories to include and in what order?

AI: My book has two sections: the first is set in communist Eastern Europe (Ukraine or an unnamed country), and the second, which has some stories about (my) life as a new immigrant in America, is more eclectic. The publisher, who wanted a smaller book, decided to take the entire first part; we then selected together the stories that we included in the second section. I tried to arrange them in a way that gave the book some kind of coherence by placing next to each other the stories that take place more or less in the same space (the space can be geographical or imaginary)

TSR: What does the word "story" mean to you?

AI:   This word changes its meaning according to the language one speaks. Since I am fluent in several languages and I write in two, I am particularly sensitive to these kinds of changes. Although the dictionary tells you that "story" (Engl.), "nouvelle" (Fr.), "récit" (Fr.) and "poveste" or "povestire" (Romanian) are the same thing, they mean slightly different things for those who speak these languages. The French differentiate between "nouvelle" and "récit": the first is more developed, more complex than the second (though a "nouvelle" is not necessarily the equivalent of a "novella" either). The Romanian "poveste" harks back to the oral tradition of storytelling, as the word means both "story" and "tale." In each language, the word carries with it a specific history and an implicit vision of what a good story is.

TSR: Do you have a reader in mind when you write stories?

AI: Yes, the "reader" is me. I think a true writer writes for himself (or herself), but with the hope that someone else out there will read these stories and identify with the one who wrote them.

TSR: Is there anything you'd like to ask someone who has read your collection, anything at all?

AI: Yes. In what way is my book different from other books they’ve read? And: Which of the things in my book seem autobiographical to them?

TSR: How does it feel knowing that people are buying your book?

AI: It feels both exhilarating and disturbing to know that a total stranger lives with my book and knows me in a way that I’ll never know them. I sometimes feel very close to the writers I read and admire, so I wonder if anyone may feel like that about me.

TSR: What are you working on now?

AI: I am working on a novel tentatively called Longing for the Promised Land. It is a novel about immigrants that mixes fiction and (auto)biography, namely, the story of my family who emigrated from the Ukraine to China and from there to America, the "true" stories of several writers who emigrated to California, and the fictional story of several friends who left communist Romania for the Promised Land. But the "Promised Land" is also a metaphor… I won’t say for what. I already said too much.

TSR: What are the three most recent short story collections you've read?

AI:  Lori Ostlund’s The Bigness of the World, Aleksandar Hemon’s Love and Obstacles and Massimo Bontempelli’s The Faithful Lover.
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