Issue #227: What Is Behind by Tomiko Breland

We at One Story aren’t in the habit of publishing stories that directly relate to current events—not because that’s our policy, but because such stories usually take a long time to dream up, percolate, and write. When Tomiko Breland’s “What Is Behind” came to us, we were captivated by the writing, first and foremost, and we were blown away by its immediate grasp of an ongoing, tragic, and very widespread current event: the plight of the Syrian refugees. The story follows nine people, inviting the reader into each of their heads as they emerge from hiding and make a run for safety. It’s a remarkable piece of political fiction—in no small part because its emotional impact is not just the result of the subject matter, but of the way it’s rendered. To read more about how the story came into existence, take a look at our Q&A with Tomiko Breland, where she reveals why the form she wrote in was the only one that allowed her to do justice to her characters.

4 thoughts on “Issue #227: What Is Behind by Tomiko Breland

  1. I received my issue 227 of One Story today and immediately became a captive of Tomiko Breland’s powerful story, “What is Behind”. At first I wasn’t really certain where the story was going, but as it began to coalesce I was stunned by not only the superb writing but also the aching way in which the Syrian refugee crisis was portrayed. Hours later I am still stunned.

  2. I’m generally skeptical of pathos and of contemporary socio-political commentary but for the most part this one dodges the landmines (black humor intended) and is grounded in character and plot, eschewing commentary or politicized nonsense. An affecting and very well-structured tale. Worth reading.

  3. There is a lot to say about this one, but I’ll say only a few things. It’s a fine example of a story in which the present tense works to deliver a sense of immediacy. The form seems risky–the abrupt cessation of thought or action preceding each new character, for example–but it fits the conflict here. The details of each character’s life–the mundane, their hopes and fears, even the objects they covet, drew me in and brought this to life, so to speak. It is compassionate, and it is brutal, and, for this reader, it’s well done.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.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