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Photograph: Lauren Spinelli

Book review: The UnAmericans by Molly Antopol

Religion, politics, language, art and the weight of history play into individuals’ decisions in Antopol's worthy, first collection.


By Molly Antopol. W.W. Norton, $25

Geographic and moral dislocation suffuse the stories of Molly Antopol’s The UnAmericans. While his daughter embraces a religious tradition he’s never been interested in, the divorced, middle-aged narrator of “The Old World” embarks on a relationship with a woman from Kiev but feels ambivalent about traveling there. The Red Scare serves as backdrop for several stories, including “The Unknown Soldier,” about a Russian actor whose opportunistic embrace of Communism costs him in the end. Antopol dissects idealism and cynicism in equal measure, and shows the effects of each on the lives of those around her protagonists. History and culture loom, but never for the same person in the same way, and loneliness and confusion result.

At times, The UnAmericans recalls Rebecca Lee's 2013 collection, Bobcat and Other Stories, in its deft navigation of intellectuals' maneuverings. Whether its familial or economic, Antopol does a good job of channeling her characters’ anxieties, and she shows the aftereffects of seismic political decisions on daily striving worldwide. In “Retrospective,” a translator journeys to Israel to help settle the estate of his estranged wife’s art-collecting grandmother. In its final moments, the story masterfully reveals family secrets while musing on language and art. The effect is staggering, and it brings this strong, expansive collection to a powerful conclusion.

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