This is a first – a flash fiction novella. In 51 pieces of less than 1000 words each, combining magic realism and folklore with the harshest realism, Sophie Van Llewyn tells the story of Alina and her husband Liviu in Ceausescu’s Romania. Some of the pieces are postcards, some letters, some tell of a single incident, like Liviu pinching Alina’s buttocks, and some of an extended crisis, like the repeated visits of the Security men to Alina’s home.
When Liviu’s brother defects to France, everything changes for the young couple. The promising history teacher Liviu is posted to a deadend school that has no use for history, travelling three hours a day and arriving home drunk and depressed. Alina is viewed with suspicion by her fellow teachers and makes things even worse by trying to protect a student who has committed the crime of bringing a comic to school. Aunt Theresa, who is a kind of witch (the bottled goods of the title refer to one of her specialties, shrinking people down so they fit in bottles) promises to help, but her rituals don’t seem to do the job, and besides, she’s the wife of a high-up official so maybe her loyalties are split. Alina never knows whether her mother will reject her or support her; one thing she does know is that her mother would love her to get divorced from “that peasant”. Eventually Alina and Liviu decide to leave. Easier said than done.
A small book with a big, sad, funny, wise, savage heart. An original, to be treasured.
Here’s Sophie Van Llewyn talking about how she came to write it: