Selected Shorts: Displaced Persons

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A desperate man steals an identity, and a woman struggles to keep hers as her memory fades in two contemporary stories.

“Who Am I?” is the question that unites these two stories, the first one about someone desperately assuming a new identity, the second one a poignant depiction of a woman’s struggle against a growing loss of identity.  We begin with a story that was part of our program celebrating the Houghton-Mifflin volume, Best American Short Stories 2008, selected by the volume’s editor, novelist Alice Sebold.

Rebecca Makkai’s “The Briefcase,” owes something to Gogol, the author told SHORTS host Isaiah Sheffer in the interview that follows this story, but also depicts the harrowing decisions forced on a man who might be anyone, in any city that has experienced revolution and despotism.  Makkai has published stories in several small magazines, as well as appearing in The Best American Short Stories 2009 and in The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2009.   She has completed a novel, The Borrower, about a librarian who inadvertently kidnaps a ten-year-old boy.  She lives near Chicago.

The reader is Broadway and television star Victor Garber, who depicted the sort of man who sends people into worlds like Makkai’s in the television series “Alias,” and whose Broadway credits include “Deathtrap,” “Sweeney Todd,” “Noises Off” and “Arcadia.”

Our second story on this broadcast was part of an evening celebrating the young writers who hang out—and write!—in the Hungarian Pastry Shop Café up near the Columbia University campus, a few blocks north of Symphony Space.  It is Julie Otsuka’s part story/part memoir, “Diem Perdidi”, a poignant portrait of her mother’s gradual loss of memory.  The Latin phrase “diem perdidi”, is one of the things the mother in this piece still remembers, from her school days, and means, with heartbreaking aptness: “I have lost the day.”  The reader is Jayne Atkinson, whose television credits include a recurring role on “24,” and whose Broadway appearances include the 2009 revival of Noel Coward’s “Blithe Spirit.”

The musical interlude in this program is the theme “Secret Agent” by Philip Glass, from the recording of his score for the film “The Secret Agent.”  The SELECTED SHORTS theme is Roger Kellaway’s “Come to the Meadow.”

“The Briefcase,” by Rebecca Makkai, read by Victor Garber 

“Diem Perdidi,” by Julie Otsuka, read by Jayne Atkinson.


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