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April 15, 2024

Wanderers: Book Review

By Wendy Robards

Wanderers, by Edward Belfar

Edward Belfar's collection of stories takes readers to dusty towns in Africa, on a honeymoon in Rome, and to Yankee Stadium, among other places. The characters who people these stories include a man who chooses the wrong wife, a woman who returns to her childhood home just outside Nairobi, a former pro baseball player who lives in squalor after missing a fly ball in a championship game, a man who seems to have lost it all and resists his brother's offer of assistance, a Kenyan man desperate to provide for his wife and child, and a Greek Orthodox woman who moves from one lawsuit to the next. All of Belfar's characters seem to find themselves disillusioned, failing at marriage or jobs or relationships, and searching for some kind of redemption and hope.

Mwangi, a Kenyan man is struggling with poverty and exhaustion in Something Small. He loves his wife and child, but feels hopeless to provide them with an adequate home.

For a moment, Mwangi, still a bit lightheaded, flirted with the idea of calling out sick and crawling into bed beside her. Today, Sunday, was his day of rest, when he worked only in the evening. Tomorrow -- and countless more tomorrows -- would bring fourteen hours of toil, the day spent at a downtown Barclay's branch, where he labored as a teller, handling other people's money, and the evening at the airport. It seemed to him that he lived only to work -- to work without end and without reward, save the ability to sustain himself so that he could work some more. - from Something Small, page 123 -

It is no wonder then, when faced with a chance to make some extra money, that Mwangi is tempted to abandon his moral beliefs. This short story was perhaps my favorite of the collection because Belfar so clearly sets Mwangi's life out for the reader and then places an ethical dilemma in his path.

Two of the stories in Belfar's collection are connected by characters. In Roman Honeymoon, David and Salma travel to Rome for their honeymoon where David seems to regret his decision to marry, and Selma appears completely unhappy with not only David, but life in general. Later in Visitations, the reader gets to see the couple years later while David is recovering from an accident in hospital. I quite enjoyed this "fast forward" where questions which arose in Roman Honeymoon are answered in Visitations.

Belfar's writing is vivid and character-driven while anchored in a firm sense of place. The reader feels like a bit of a voyeur, peering into the lives of these troubled characters and hoping for them to find redemption.

This is not a feel-good collection of stories. Often I found myself feeling nearly as hopeless as the characters, wishing them a better life, or a break, or a glimmer of happiness. The Ruined House was able to offer me a small light of hope. Njeri leaves her home in America to return to Nairobi where she grew up in a small village outside the city. At first she is dismayed at the changes to the area, then she is reminded of the beauty still present in the countryside.

Njeri exulted as the rich, undulant landscape that she remembered so well spread itself before her once again. Sisal plants that had taken root in the red soil by the roadside stretched out their broad, flat leaves to catch the sun. To the right, at the bottom of a gentle declivity, lay vast fields of maize, and every now and then, Njeri could discern the outlines of a human form hunched over amid the stalks. To her left, she saw banana orchards. - from The Ruined House, page 69 -

Despite finding her family home in disrepair, Njeri is able to find a trickle of hope for her country as she watches the caretaker's son dash through a newly raked pile of leave and scatters them to the wind. "Things will get better," reminds her brother.

After finishing these stories, I found myself thinking of the characters at odd times. The fact that I felt their despair and worried about them speaks well of Belfar's ability to pull the reader into their lives.

Wanderers is a book which will appeal to readers who enjoy well-written short stories, especially those set in foreign lands.

★ ★ ★ 1/2 : Three and a half stars out of five.

Catch all of Wendy Robard's reviews in her fabulous blog, "Caribousmom".

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Article © Wendy Robards. All rights reserved.
Published on 2013-01-28
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