There Are Jews in My House
Lara Vapnyar, in There Are Jews in My House, ingeniously shows her wisdom about life by exploring humanity and human frailty. Remarkably adept at portraying characters, Vapnyar, a recent Russian immigrant herself, vividly depicts the struggles and adventures, dilemmas and unexpected turns in small people's world, with delicate humor and incredible emotional honesty. It is her deft and vivid portraits of different main characters in each of the six stories that successfully develop her main theme: human beings should always stay on their way of pursuing spiritual sustenance, regardless of the adversity they face.
In the title story, "There Are Jews in My House," Vapnyar reveals that morals and faith are two important forms of spiritual sustenance. The emotional transition of the only three-dimensional character, Galina, towards her Jewish friend, Raya, is the main thread of this story. At first, Galina decides to save Raya and Leeza although she somehow knows the danger inherent in harboring Jews. "But the thought of the danger [does not] dampen Galina's ardor; on the contrary, it [makes] her all the more enthusiastic" (28). However, the external conflicts, which arise under the law against Jews, cause the internal conflicts in Galina's mind. Ambivalence comes up inevitably and her hypocrisy slowly outweighs her generosity. Holding two lives in her hand while risking her own life, Galina "desperately [wants] to back out" and to tell Raya, "'No, no, you can't stay here. It's not for me. I am the wrong type of person. I am not prepared'" (30).
Furthermore, Galina's negative attitudes towards Raya, deeply buried in her mind, are unearthed and magnified. On the one hand, Galina still hides Raya in her house, carefully not showing any hatred. On the other hand, her jealousy about Raya's ability to live a different life leads to an unpleasant result, which is doomed. Galina hesitates about whether or not to turn Raya in. She prepares the words in her mind, "Es gibt Juden in mein Haus" (47). Although Galina's guilty conscience helps her to stop at the edge of betrayal and to "[turn] around", she "[can't] make herself feel that she [is] doing something heroic" (48). At last, Raya takes the moral high road and leaves. For Galina, she does not need to risk her life anymore. However, she feels so guilty of Raya's leaving because she knows that she has abandoned her moral code. Due to her waiver, she loses her spiritual sustenance.
The following four stories, "Ovrashki's Trains," "Lydia's Grove," "A Question for Vera," and "Mistress" are all pointing to a common thread from children's views: emotionally intricate conflicts can block people's way to their spiritual sustenance. In "Ovrashki's Trains," Vapnyar presents the change of a little girl's mood from hope to hatred as the trains come and go. Until years later, when the small girl knows the truth that "[her] father [has already died] in a little town on the Black Sea"...