Short Story Review – Zaure Batayeva – Dismissed (Trans. Zaure Batayeva and Shelley Fairweather-Vega)

The school’s accountant, Maria Alekseevna, said that I would receive the 6000 tenge they owed me only in the middle of June. This was bad news. I had already used up my teaching salary to pay for English lessons and my graduate-school stipend to pay for my daily living expenses. My stipend had run out in April. I had to find a new job immediately.

But 6,000 tenge is not very much money.  Our narrator, Shynar Sagyman, has lost her job as a school teacher and is scrambling to come up with a way to keep earning.  She can speak Russian, Kazakh, and a bit of English, but that isn’t enough.  And the 6,000 tenge she expects won’t arrive for some time.

And that kind of money?  Well, new sandles are 2,000 tenge.  In short, she is in trouble.

But does Shynar realise this?  Well, no.  She says she does, and the bulk of the story has her running about to friends and family in an attempt to find a job and solve her financial difficulties.  However, the story’s language comes most to life when Shynar considers her appearance and her clothes, and it’s striking that virtually the only time colours are mentioned is when she catches herself in a mirror, or thinks about her appearance.

This is no accident.  Batayeva’s language is simple, close to chatty.  One can imagine this story being told between friends over a coffee.  The narrator comes across as immature and vague, though generally good-hearted.  She never really thought adult life would catch up with her (if we take ‘adult life’ to mean – pitfalls, challenges, detours, mistakes), and when it does, she isn’t prepared for it.

A curious note – the story opens with Shynar dismissed, yes.  She was fired for ‘violating labor regulations’.   This, at least for me as a reader from Australia, hangs above the story as an intriguing detail which is never really explained.  What does this mean, exactly?  Not the letter of the law, but the spirit?  There are hints near the start that it is due to Shynar not being a team player, but that is all we know.  A writer is not, of course, required to exhaustively explain every facet of their culture in a text, but nevertheless I am left curious and wanting.

The story ends well.  Shynar realises, finally, that she has been living her life in a manner unbecoming this crises, but then the story immediately ends.  Will she do anything about it?  Unlikely, because there will always be another pair of shoes to buy.

You can read Zaure Batayeva’s short story, Dismissed, for free online courtesy of Words Without Borders‘ January 2018 edition, Singular and Universal: Stories of Parents and Children

Author Zaure Batayeva
Title Dismissed
Translators Zaure Batayeva and Shelley Fairweather-Vega
Nationality Kazakh
Publisher Words Without Borders

Please visit the Short Story Reviews page to see all of the available reviews.

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