Brief Encoun­ters with the Enemy

  • Review
By – November 21, 2013

Saïd Sayrafiezadeh’s book of short sto­ries, Brief Encoun­ters with the Ene­my, describes life for con­tem­po­rary work­ing-class Amer­i­cans. We enter into a name­less riv­er city. A war is going on, a war that we dread hear­ing about. At the same time, though, Sayrafiezadeh begins to tell it in such an intrigu­ing and ther­a­peu­tic way that we feel com­fort­ed by these sto­ries, know­ing that we Amer­i­cans are in this thing togeth­er. The narrator’s name and job change in each sto­ry, but he speaks of the same name­less city and the same war in the same voice. We under­stand him to be the same char­ac­ter as he was in the last sto­ry. Although war remains the empha­sis of Sayrafiezadeh’s writ­ing through­out, the author touch­es on mul­ti­ple human issues, Amer­i­can (and most of the time, uni­ver­sal) strug­gles: self-esteem defi­cien­cies, exces­sive or feigned patri­o­tism, and reli­gious bat­tles. In one sto­ry, Nick — our gen­tile pro­tag­o­nist — is smit­ten with a Jew­ish girl named Zlot­tie. Zlot­tie goes on a date to an amuse­ment park with Nick in his small home­town, tak­en way out of her insu­lar, famil­iar, Jew­ish world. This hap­pens to be Zlottie’s first time going to an amuse­ment park, and she has a blast. Friends and acquain­tances of Nick rec­og­nize him, which delight­ful­ly sur­pris­es Zlot­tie. This Jew­ish girl has left her com­fort zone and has entered into anoth­er, non-Jew­ish world, and it turns out that it’s not to be feared. The nar­ra­tor describes the physique of every­one around him in this sto­ry and in all of the oth­er sto­ries. By doing so, we get a sense that Amer­i­ca is com­posed of dif­fer­ent human shapes born for a sin­gle pur­pose: to go to war with the ene­my. These oth­er char­ac­ters that he describes are obese. They are strong. They are beau­ti­ful. Descrip­tions of this kind help us to see through Sayrafiezadeh’s lens the state of Amer­i­ca, as the war march­es on — this osten­si­bly end­less war. Sayrafiezadeh’s book cul­mi­nates in the heart-pound­ing title sto­ry, in which the pro­tag­o­nist comes face to face with the ene­my. Brief Encoun­ters with the Ene­my is an orig­i­nal, mul­ti-lay­ered work that can be dif­fi­cult to digest all at once, yet it is impos­si­ble not to appre­ci­ate Saïd Sayrafiezadeh’s three-dimen­sion­al char­ac­ters, care­ful­ly observed Amer­i­can set­tings, and com­plex emo­tions for the sol­diers going off to and return­ing home from war.

Mike Sloan attend­ed Keene State Col­lege in Keene, NH. While there, he stud­ied Eng­lish and writ­ing. For the year fol­low­ing his grad­u­a­tion he worked as an edu­ca­tor for Ameri­Corps in Boston, MA. These days Mike lives in Los Ange­les, CA and aspires to be a writer in the enter­tain­ment industry.

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