It’s not everyday I get to read a book set in my adopted city of Brussels, so I got all excited when I found out about The Meantime.

My fellow Brussels expat Joanna and I got together to do a buddy-review, and one of the authors (thanks Monica!) gave each of us a give-away copy (a first for The Sleepless Reader) . So if you’re interested in knowing more about this unique-yet-largely-unknown city, just post a comment with your email and I’ll do the  lottery on the 13th. It’s open internationally.

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Meantime-Nine-short-Stories-From-Brussel-Monica-Westeren-Alfredo-Zucchi-Dany-G.-ZuwenAlex: I sometimes think how cool it must be for people who live in places like New York or London to often see their cities in books. This is the first time I’ve ever read a book set in Brussels, which is strange because it has such a unique history and environment. First impressions: I liked the variety of the authors’ nationalities and was surprised how that translated in stories that made a lot of sense put together.

I though there where some that really captured what I see as the essence of Brussels: the quick connections, the mutability, the melting-pot, the new-comers sense of being adrift and yet the possibilities, the grayness of the sky.

Joanna: I thought the same thing about finally reading a book set in a city I know! Brussels is such a unique city too, international like many others, but more transient I think. I always thought that many aspects of life here would be interesting for others to read about too, just like it’s fun for me to read about the excitement of New York.

In general, I liked some of the stories more than others, but I guess that’s the beauty of a short story collection, there is something for everyone. Several of the stories brought me back to my younger years spent here, the years of not really knowing myself and not really understanding what I wanted and all the confusion offered by the endless choices of life in Brussels.

Which story did you identify with the most?

Alex: I’d have to chose the first one, [insert title + author when I’m closer to the book], about the guy starting to fall in love but at the same time applying for the job in South America. I was also like that when “landing” here – the feeling of being without any anchor, but also of knowing that everything is starting and that the possibilities are endless.

I’ve had job interviews here that went exactly like that… and also loved to see the sentence that starts most Brussels conversations “Where are you from?” I felt this story really captured the essence of my Brussels: transient, definitely, but also full of energy and a true melting pot. A bit of a micro-cosmos that tends to turn towards only itself (isn’t that the criticism of most people who don’t live here?).

I though that some of the stories were only set in Brussels and didn’t do much towards capturing the unique spirit of place. A missed opportunity, I guess. What was you favorite?

Joanna: I don’t know if I have a favorite, I identified aspects of several of the stories. In “The Lovely Streets”, I liked the mention of all the choices available to a 20-something, but also the mention of none of those choices involving passion or love. So we make our choices based on what a great opportunity they are in general, but we don’t stop to think about what we REALLY want to do with our lives. I was like that too and only recently stopped chasing ‘great opportunities’ to figure out what makes ME happy.

I also loved the small talk in ‘A Belgian Wedding Picture’. I think all the weddings I’ve been to here have been exactly like that! And I loved the “The Commissioner and the Pig”, the working life was really realistic… until the ending, which I didn’t think rang true of anything.

Oh and all the languages worked into “From Brussels South to Ottignes” and the sad, distant relationship in “Bear Dance”.

Basically, I can’t say I loved any of the stories, but I liked aspects in many. I also disliked a couple, I didn’t think they fit in with the rest of the collection…

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Alex: There were also some stories that didn’t do it for me (or maybe it’s just a Brussels I don’t recognize?). But it surprised me how the big majority felt like they were part of a set, probably because they were all told in the first person and the main characters had more or less the same age – I understand that was part of the challenge set in a Creative Writing class that kick-started the whole project?

One last thought: when finishing I wondered if people who don’t love here would get the Brussels thing. Why it is such a unique and interesting place to live. I think it’s likely they would, that’s why I wouldn’t hesitate recommending it to everyone.

Joanna: Yes, it was a Creative Writing group that ended up writing this book – their requirements for the stories were that all the stories should be written in the first person, the main characters should be 25-35 years old and the story should take place in Brussels. They ended up with such a variety of stories and I think that people would definitely get the Brussels thing based on them. Recommended to anyone who wants to read an original collection about a place that’s underrepresented in literature.

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