“The Tale of the Ive-ojan-akhar’s Death” by Alex Jeffers (11326 words)
No Spoilers: A man referred to as nen-kè narrates a story about politics, desire, and faith as the world around him is turned upside down, beginning with the death of his adorable dog. The narrator is a foreigner, but one who is in many ways in love with the culture of the place where he lives. It’s not, it turns out, a love that is exactly reciprocated, and the story follows the threats at the heart of this place, the ways its isolation makes it beautiful but also cruel in many ways. And it is that cruelty that begins to unravel the narrator’s peace and happiness, though perhaps not permanently. As far as plots go, for me the story has a feel of revealing this small piece of a larger story, a moment in a historically significant event. It features a person at the heart of it in many ways, though not as wrapped up in it as he could be. And the whole thing unravels, spinning this web of characters and prejudices and hurts. The piece is almost pastoral, told with a grace that belies just how shattering these events are. There’s a certain restraint to the piece, too, as the narrator struggles to contain their emotions as they are beset by loss after loss. It’s a moving, lovely story that doesn’t exactly pack a strong punch but it a joy to read.
Keywords: Dogs, Prejudice, Queer MC, Puppetry, Politics, Cruelty
Review: For me, this piece lives on the strength of its nested narratives and the ways that it draws these huge events next to the very personal gains and losses of the narrator. The piece opens with death, with the narrator losing his pet dog thanks to the cruelty of a child. And for me, then, a lot of the story becomes about scale and about cruelty and about loss. How for the narrator this first thing, this violation, leads him into sadness, into hurt, makes him want to lash out. And how that compares when the same set of people offend a much more powerful person—one who has no compunctions about hurting right back. And about how this cycle only creates more violence, more death, more tragedy. How the narrator, by seeking to resist lashing out, striking back, is trying to escape the cycle of violation and despair that seems to consume everything. And how, in essence, he is able to escape, though not without losing things. But with the most important things still intact, and with a hope that he can continue forward, and find happiness, and heal from his wounds.
The setting of the world here is interesting, with shades of our own historical past placed into a second world where it can blossom and bloom. It’s a gorgeous world with an evocative city life and culture. The place that the narrator loves, the country and the people—are a bit xenophobic, and learning a bit of their history and their art allows the reader to start to see why things happen as they happen, how this has all been primed to further the cause of harm and war and conflict. The character work, meanwhile, is amazing. The narrator is solid and reliable and romantic, wanting to live in a way where he can explore his feelings and enjoy the simple pleasures of his life. When other things crowd in, though, he can act quickly and with authority. His servant Shàu is loyal and sensitive and competent. And the figures of the envoy and his family are interesting and not at all flattering. It’s a great bit of world building how all of these people interact, how it grounds the story in this much larger world with these big things happening. Mostly, it shows that amid the hustle and bustle of history, here are people at the center of things just trying to get on, trying to live and find a place to be. And it offers up a happy-ish ending to a part of this world’s history that seems about decline and loss. The culture that the narrator loved is in large part destroyed, and yet he himself finds a way to keep his faith and hope and move forward into a future worth living. It’s a lovely and wonderful read!