Issue #108: Foreign Girls

For issue #108, “Foreign Girls” by Tom Grattan, One Story staffer Elliott Holt acted as editor. She was responsible for bringing the story on board, and also taking it through the publishing process. So I’m happy to pass the hat over to her for a proper introduction to this fantastic story. -HT

In Questions of Travel, Elizabeth Bishop asks, “Should we have stayed at home,/wherever that may be?” I thought of Bishop’s poem while reading Thomas Grattan’s story of estrangement, “Foreign Girls.”

I have been a foreign girl. In Amsterdam, where I lived in my late twenties. In London, where a job took me in my mid-twenties. And I was a foreign girl in Moscow, too, where I moved right after college. I was teaching English and typed up the lyrics to The Times They Are A-Changin’ for my students. It was 1997, and the times were a-changin’ in Russia, but the people in my classroom weren’t interested in Bob Dylan. They wanted to learn the vocabulary words that would help them navigate the high seas of capitalism. “Is it true,” asked one of my students, a filmmaker who was about my age, “that Americans don’t read?” “I read,” I said. I was happy to finally be in a place that valued literacy above all else (or so I thought). But I think my answer disappointed him. He wanted an authentic American specimen, not an apparent anomaly like me.

My estrangement goes even farther back than that, of course. Like most sensitive, bookish people I know, I felt utterly foreign as an adolescent. Then I spent my twenties as an expat, trying to find a place where I’d feel more at home, until I realized—like so many foreign girls and boys before me—that my sense of exile had more to do with who I was than where I lived. Needless to say, Thomas Grattan’s story resonated with me (as I am sure it will with many readers), and it was my pleasure to act as guest editor for this issue.

“Foreign Girls” is a story about a German woman, Lore, in Albany, New York, who befriends her Georgian (as in former Soviet Georgian) tenant. Nino, with her crazy fur coat and constant laughter, is literally pregnant with possibility. In her, Lore sees a chance to feel needed, to feel more connected. But the friendship, like so many that are formed on foreign soil, is transient and doomed to fail. Because the story takes place in Lore’s own home—a house that she and her husband have lived in for years—her isolation is even sadder. Lore is not completely at home anywhere, and in the restrained narrative tone, the author evokes Lore’s distance from her surroundings. It’s a lovely, subtle story, and one in which the characters are so fully realized that I found myself thinking about them long after I finished reading. Many of us read and write to feel less foreign, more connected, or to get “a boost from the language,” as Joseph Brodsky said. One can only hope that Lore finds something as sustaining as literature to save her from alienation. To read an interview with Thomas Grattan about this story, check out the Q&A. And please feel free to share your own stories about feeling foreign. I suspect there are a lot of foreign girls among us.

5 thoughts on “Issue #108: Foreign Girls

  1. Foreign boys too.

    The idea of being foreign and not fitting in has been flogged endlessly through immigrant stories. I have tired of writers from India (and other countries) belaboring this genre.

    However, Tom seems to have (based on the interview and what I have read at this site*) written about this foreign-ness from a different angle and it seems interesting.

    * Sorry.. not a subscriber. just heard about One Story through reading the article in Poets & Writers.

  2. I started reading this story some time ago, set it aside, and just returned to it last night. I like very much what this writer has done. I was taken and also heartened by his choice to write not only from a woman’s point of view, but from a Georgian’s. There is much to learn from the way this writer gets the sound of another language into his sentences. I also liked many of the choices he made about where to hold back and what to leave out.

    Another great story. Thanks.

  3. This story was my first issue as a new subscriber. I was quieted by the first page or so, unsure if I was going to like this story but drawn in enough to continue reading.

    The patient crafting of the story worked. It really was quite good, and sad in that way where you can’t quite point to it and say ‘there,’ though you know it’s all around.

    Thanks for this.

  4. This story is, to me, very impressive in a couple of ways. I agree with blogger Anna Clark that the sadness in the story is subtly present–which, if one thinks about how sadness is actually manifest in life, seems the most effective way to have sadness “presented” in a story. Also–and more importantly to me, someone who’s not an author but a person who especially enjoys reading short fiction, the statement made of short fiction that it doesn’t deal with the character development characteristic of longer works, is really, and impressively, a statement that’s inapplicable to Mr. Grattan’s story.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *