“A fierce, big-hearted, unflinching debut”* novel about mothers and daughters, haves and have-nots, and the stark realities behind the American Dream
*Celeste Ng, author of Little Fires Everywhere
WINNER OF THE GEORGIA AUTHOR OF THE YEAR AWARD FOR FIRST NOVEL • NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE AND REAL SIMPLE
A waitress at the Betsy Ross Diner, Elsie hopes her nickel-and-dime tips will add up to a new life. Then she meets Bashkim, who is at once both worldly and naïve, a married man who left Albania to chase his dreams—and wound up working as a line cook in Waterbury, Connecticut. Back when the brass mills were still open, this bustling factory town drew one wave of immigrants after another. Now it’s the place they can’t seem to leave. Elsie, herself the granddaughter of Lithuanian immigrants, falls in love quickly, but when she learns that she’s pregnant, Elsie can’t help wondering where Bashkim’s heart really lies, and what he’ll do about the wife he left behind.
Seventeen years later, headstrong and independent Luljeta receives a rejection letter from NYU and her first-ever suspension from school on the same day. Instead of striking out on her own in Manhattan, she’s stuck in Connecticut with her mother, Elsie—a fate she refuses to accept. Wondering if the key to her future is unlocking the secrets of the past, Lulu decides to find out what exactly her mother has been hiding about the father she never knew. As she soon discovers, the truth is closer than she ever imagined.
Told in equally gripping parallel narratives with biting wit and grace, Brass announces a fearless new voice with a timely, tender, and quintessentially American story.
Praise for Brass
“Lustrous . . . a tale alive with humor and gumption, of the knotty, needy bond between a mother and daughter . . . [Brass] marks the arrival of a writer whose work will stand the test of time.”—O: The Oprah Magazine
“An exceptional debut novel, one that plumbs the notion of the American Dream while escaping the clichés that pursuit almost always brings with it . . . [Xhenet] Aliu delivers a living, breathing portrait of places left behind.”—The Boston Globe
“The writing blazes on the page. . . . So much about the book is also extraordinarily timely, especially when it focuses on class and culture, and what they really mean.”—San Francisco Chronicle
“Aliu is witty and unsparing in her depiction of the town and its inhabitants, illustrating the granular realities of the struggle for class mobility.”—The New Yorker
Aliu juxtaposes a mother and daughter's late teenage desperation 17 years apart in her striking first novel. In the mid-'90s, Elsie waits tables at a greasy spoon in post-industrial Waterbury, Conn. She pins her hopes for upward mobility on Bashkim, an Albanian immigrant who left his wife in the old country and funnels all his money into mysterious investments. An unplanned pregnancy forces them into uneasy cohabitation, where Elsie copes with her mother's pessimism, the derision of the Albanian wives of Bashkim's friends, and her partner's alarming volatility. Aliu intersperses the story of their daughter, Luljeta, a senior in high school whose own hopes for escape from Waterbury are dashed with a rejection from NYU. As she reels, she also discovers her extended Albanian family still lives in the area and can answer questions about the father her mother claimed had died. With the help of Albanian teenager Ahmet, whose modest dreams of Panera franchises starkly contrast with Luljeta's glamorous goals of leaving town, she sets off to finally find her father. This is a captivating, moving story of drastic measures, failed schemes, and the loss of innocence.