Review: Xhenet Aliu’s ‘Brass’ is Absolutely Fearless

in Fiction by

We all know that reading offers an escape, whether that escape is to explore different worlds and cultures, or just to get away from your job for a few hours. But there are some books out there that juts perfectly embody our sense of wanderlust and Brass, by Xhenet Aliu is one of them.

Beautifully written, Brass encompasses the personal, if at times painful bonds between mothers and daughters, while capturing the longing of wanting to leave home and explore the world.

As a waitress at a diner in Waterbury, Connecticut, Elsie has big dreams of getting out and hopes that the tips she makes will be enough to do that. In the meantime, she starts getting to know Bashkim, the married line-order cook, who immigrated from Albania with dreams of his own. Waterbury used to attract immigrants from all over the world when the brass mills were open; now closed, the town has become a place no one can successfully leave. Elsie falls in love with Bashkim, but when she falls pregnant, she can’t help but wonder about the wife he left in Albania and if his heart still belongs to her.

Years later, Luljeta— Elsie’s 17 year old daughter— gets her first suspension from school on the same day she receives a rejection letter from New York University. Now, like her mother, she’s stuck in the middle of Connecticut, instead of seeing what the world has to offer. She comes to find that if the solution to getting out doesn’t lie moving forward,  perhaps it lies by going backwards. Luljeta starts to ask questions about the father she never met and the secrets that her mother has been keeping from her. What follows is a stunning twin-narrative from mother and daughter, jumping between the past and the present.

Poignantly graceful, introspective and absolutely fearless, Xhenet Aliu has captured the essence of want, love and tenderness in a novel that examine class and social structure with biting wit. Brass is sure to become a timeless read.



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Xhenet Aliu’s debut fiction collection, Domesticated Wild Things, and Other Stories, won the Prairie Schooner Book Prize in Fiction. Her stories and essays have appeared in Glimmer Train, The Barcelona Review, American Short Fiction, and elsewhere. She holds an MFA from the University of North Carolina Wilmington and an MLIS from The University of Alabama. A native of Waterbury, Connecticut, she was born to an Albanian father and a Lithuanian American mother. She now lives in Athens, Georgia, and works as an academic librarian.


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Rachel Fogle De Souza was born and raised in Connecticut, and traveled extensively throughout Europe, parts of Asia, and the United States, before attending college at the University of California, Davis, where she received a B.A. in Comparative Literature, with a double minor in Women, Gender and Sexualities studies, and Middle Eastern/South Asian studies. When she's not writing, she's reading, boxing, or thinking about traveling.

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