On Books: 'You Are Not A Stranger Here' By Adam Haslett

Jun 9, 2016

On Books is a new literature review series by NPR Berlin made possible in part by Shakespeare & Sons. This review will air on NPR Berlin 104,1 FM during Morning Edition on Friday, June 10th at 11:49 AM.

It is the familiar fear of being anywhere at all, of committing to the decision to stay in one place.

Paul, the former teacher struggling with depression, thinks these initial words to himself in the story "War's End". He comes to terms with his disease after a change of location. In a sleepy Scottish seaside town, he meets an elderly lady who is taking care of her fatally ill grandson. Then, finally, he makes a decision he has been dreading for a long time: to let go.

The cover of "You Are Not a Stranger Here" by Adam Haslett, originally published in 2002 by Random House, New York.
Credit Courtesy of Random House, New York

  Adam Haslett's Pulitzer Prize-nominated debut You Are Not A Stranger Here still seems relevant almost fifteen years after its publication. His collection of nine short stories is as much about people as it is about places – or rather, the feeling of displacement.

There is the 25-year old, closeted homosexual, James, who has no one to turn to when he faces the final stages of AIDS except for his dead father and an unknown girl he meets at a London restaurant.

It is heavy stuff we are dealing with. At times, Haslett's very different protagonists share so much of their struggles, it’s almost unbearable. You Are Not A Stranger Here is a guidebook for all those who have suffered loss.

Intimate, intense and always with a slightly humorous undertone, Haslett manages to bring across a warmth that can only come from one who has felt misplaced before. Gently, he reminds us: you are not a stranger here – not in Berlin or any place else. Just like Haslett himself, a fellow at the American Academy in the fall of 2011.