A short stories collection published by Livingston Press, the University of West Alabama, in October 2022. It received a starred review from Kirkus.
From the author:
A lost antique pillow contains jewels, valuable by themselves. But what makes them even more precious is that they are the main ingredient of the elixir of youth. A certified interpreter of dreams and afflictions known affectionately as Deda fights a charming con woman Penelopa and her clueless sidekick Piotr for their possession. A few more human and not-so-human creatures are ready to kill for it. Every character in these twenty-two interlinked stories collection is an immigrant from a place real or imaginary.
An immigrant must be excellent to get adopted by a new country. But only the most excellent wins.
Magical realism meets American harsh reality in “The Most Excellent Immigrant” by Mark Budman. This collection of inter-connected short stories combines the treasure-seeking journey of “The Twelve Chairs” with the internal journey all immigrants take in redefining who they are. A ‘Deda’ searches for his lost youth, a con-woman hunts for priceless pearls, and the reader locates a little bit of themselves in every character.
–Alina Adams, NYT best-selling author, “The Nesting Dolls” and “My Mother’s Secret: A Novel of the Jewish Autonomous Region”
Budman crafts a story collection that reads more like a novella, exploring coherent, resonant themes, such as the exhilaration that immigrants feel regarding America’s opportunities and their bafflement at its alienating culture; the deep changes in perspective wrought by aging; and the uncertainties of attempting to communicate with and understand other people. His fictional world has a Dostoevskian feel to it; its characters are steeped in metaphysical rumination and spiritual yearnings, which lead to material calculations and occasional eruptions of shocking violence. Full of mordant wit, colorful characters, and disorienting swerves, Budman’s text brims with evocative detail when relating squalid realism— The result is a dazzling read with true philosophical depth amid wild flights of fancy.. A set of captivating tales of strangers in a very strange land.
–Kirkus Review, a starred review.
From the reviewer: Mark Budman, in his short story collection, “The Most Excellent Immigrant”, creates interrelated stories depicting the immigrant experience in a surreal world that appears vertiginous, dreamlike and strange. His men are forced to shed their old ways finding that “the olden days of male freedom are gone.” In the new world, people are sometimes irrational, needy, lusting after overpriced pillows, seeking illogical shreds of beauty, and producing children. The reoccurring interpreter of maladies and dreams doesn’t always get the interpretation right. Language can play tricks, warping, morphing, and disappearing. As Budman writes, “interpreting can be a dangerous occupation.”
–Wang Fuzhi, the author of The Letters of Wang Fuzhi
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Inside the pillow, he discovers seven of the largest pearls he has ever seen. Deep yellowish-orange pearls reflect his open-mouthed face. He takes a ruler and measures them. 13 millimeters each. Probably would cost a fortune if they are natural. But who would hide faux jewelry in a pillow? From the kids? From the spouse? From the IRS?
$49.99 plus tax, huh. A bargain in the world of antiques.
He tells no one about the pearls, not even his wife, not his daughters, not his grandkids.
His wife would probably ask him to find the rightful owner, his daughters would advise him to sell them quietly and put the money in the trust, and the toddlers would fight among themselves how to divide the pearls between their dolls. The interpreter puts the jewels back, hides the box inside the pillow again, and sews the pillow back as carefully as he can.
A couple of weeks later, the doorbell rings at his condo. There is an older man and a younger woman on the threshold. The man, stooped and sour-faced, looks hardly taller than his companion.
But the interpreter’s eyes are caught by the woman. Her skin is the color of fresh milk with a good measure of blood. A diamond stud pierces her left ear. Her gaze probes the inner layers of the interpreter’s brain. She oozes the charisma of a Hollywood starlet, a Twitter-savvy politician, or a real estate saleswoman of the month. Some could call it charisma. Russians call it simpatichnaya.
Behind the couple, in the next yard, half-fenced and wooded, a beautiful bluebird is making an indecent proposal to his mate on a limb. A flock of wild turkeys, including a gangly teenager, is watching. As all real Bostonians know all too well, wild turkeys and geese are common in this part of Boston, to the detriment of traffic, and the detriment of the street cleaners dealing with the bloody remains.
Whether or not the human couple is surprised by the wildlife of a metropolis, the interpreter will never find out.
The woman, who stands in front of the man, flashes a wide smile, showing off her shiny, sharp, exceedingly white teeth, extends her hand, and says dobry den’. You don’t need to be a certified medical interpreter who works with Russian patients to know that it means “good day” in Russian.