as we drank our Saturday morning coffee.rnProphetic on his part, but such arnwarning hardly qualifies me to pass judgmentrnon Graywolf’s Stories From the NewrnEurope. Nevertheless, I agree with editorrnScott Walker’s assessment of “a massrnmarket and communications system thatrnthreatens to overwhelm localized customsrnand concerns.” And I sadly suspectrnthat this threat is far greater to regionalrnliterature than that offered by any totalitarianrngovernment.rnThe collection contains 16 storiesrndrawn from the following countries orrnethnic divisions: Serbia, Croatia,rnCzechoslovakia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania,rnIreland, Lebanon, Iceland, Basque,rnand Catalonia. I think it safe to assumernthey represent some of the best writingrnby the best writers these cultures have tornoffer. Foreigners make good storytellers.rnThat is a given.rnIt should not be surprising that thernstories coming out of Eastern Europerntend to emphasize “the citizen’s relationshiprnto authority.” Still, I was surprisedrnby this and by the general drabnessrnof life: the heroic act most oftenrndescribed was the simple accomplishmentrnof getting through another day.rnThe subject of a repressed citizenry isrnalso a theme of the Basque and Catalonianrnwriters, but their stories are set apartrnby a refreshing earthiness. Other tensionsrnconsidered by most of the writersrninclude the conflict of rural and urbanrnand between provinces and world. Andrnit should be noted that religion oftenrnmatters as much as politics.rnSerbian Danilo Kis’s “Garden, Ashes”rnreduces the Bible to ten merry pages—rn”the quintessence of all miracles, allrnmyths and legends, great deeds and terrors,rnhorses, armies and swords, trumpets,rndrums, howls.” Then it applies itsrnlesson of guilt to the author’s first childhoodrnromance and the crazed confirmationrnservice that followed.rnCzechoslovakian Ivan Klima’s “MondayrnMorning: A Black Market Tale” relatesrnthe adventures of a writer underrnpolice surveillance attempting to getrnmedical attention for the suicidal son ofrnhis sadistic neighbor, a black marketeer.rnAll this is not nearly so grim as it sounds,rnfor Klima manages to portray the state ofrnhis country with humor (black-heartedrnthough it may be) and end on a note ofrnlife-affirming pathos.rnLatvian Regina Ezera’s “Man NeedsrnDog” shows us an old man with fourrnpuppies to sell. Again we are given arnthumbnail sketch of an entire society:rnone where people have forgotten how tornbarter. A young musician, three gigglingrngirls, an alcoholic with plenty of money,rnand a young boy with hardly any—eachrncarries off a puppy, and the old man returnsrnhome to the companionship of thernpuppies’ mother. The writing here isrnthickly textured, dense, and powerful.rnThe moral: “Man must be responsiblernfor his dog, and this is a truth peoplernought to know.”rnBasque Angel Lertxundi’s “This ColdrnEarth is not Santo Domingo” begins:rn”By the time they buried me, the tiredrnwrinkles on their faces, their imperceptible,rndeliberately shed tears, and theirrnsoft fleeting sighs had disappeared.”rnThe dead woman describes how she tookrna lover to revenge herself on her philanderingrnhusband, and how her husbandrnthen allowed her to die from an untreatedrnillness.rnCatalonian Merice Rodoreda’s “ThernSalamander” also deals with adultery,rnbut it is told in the manner of a folktale.rnBurned as a witch, the accused womanrnmelts into the shape of a salamanderrnand escapes. Then, returning to herrnlover’s house, she is discovered beneathrnthe bed by his wife. Persecuted again,rnthe salamander-narrator seeks refuge in arnpond “among the thirsty grass roots andrnwillow roots that had drunk there sincernthe beginning of time.” This is an amazingrnpiece, one that comes with the authorityrnthat can only be instilled by arntruly “timeless” oral tradition.rnLebanese Hanan Al Shaykh’s “ThernWomen’s Swimming Pool” tells of arnyoung Muslim girl’s attempts to travelrnfrom the countryside into Lebanon for arnfirst glimpse of the ocean and a bath inrnthe women’s swimming pool. For herrncompanion, she has her tradition-boundrngrandmother; her burden is the barelyrnstated fact that the other members ofrnher family are dead. A wall of anxietyrnconfronts her, but beyond she glimpsesrnthe sea shining “as though pieces of silverrnpaper were resting on it.” Of these Graywolfrnstories, this one is my favorite. Thernworld described here is tactile, rich tornall the senses. You can feel the heat andrnthe rough grit of the stones. And yourncan feel the protagonist’s terrible frustration.rnHere is a world of immense sorrowrnreduced to a handful of pages.rnWilliam P. Baldwin is the author of ThernHard to Catch Mercy, a novel recentlyrnpublished by Algonquin Press.rnHe LovedrnNew Yorkrnby fames P. DegnanrnUp in the Old Hotel:rnAnd Other Storiesrnby Joseph MitchellrnNew York: Pantheon;rn718pp.,$27.S0rnLong regarded by critics, fans, andrnvarious of his colleagues at the NewrnYorker as America’s finest literary journalist,rn85-year-old Joseph Mitchell hadrnnot, until recently, published a wordrnsince 1965, and people wondered whatrnhe was doing in his small cubicle at thernNew Yorker’s offices, where he has regularlyrnappeared for over half a century.rnThe answer, in part, is that Mitchell wasrncollecting and editing old work and writingrnnew work for his latest book Up in thernOld Hotel, a 718-page collection of hisrnbest writing that includes four long outof-rnprint books: McSorley’s Wonderful Saloon,rnOld Mr. Flood, The Bottom of thernHarbor, and joe Gould’s Secret.rnBorn and raised in the small town ofrnFairmont, North Carolina, Mitchell attendedrnthe University of North Carolinarnfor four years but did not graduate. Inrn1929 (at age 21) he arrived in New Yorkrnseeking a job in journalism. He foundrnwork at several newspapers—first atrnthe New York World and in later years atrnthe Herald Tribune and the World Telegramrn—as a night-beat reporter, a jobrnthat inspired in him a lifelong fascinationrnfor the raffish side of urban life. Duringrnhis years as a newspaper reporter (fromrn1929 to 1938, the year he joined the staffrnof the New Yorker), Mitchell was happiestrninterviewing and writing about “unusual”rncharacters—preachers and minorrnleague gangsters, “obsessives, imposters,rnfanatics, and lost souls.”rnHe wrote about the black gangsterrnGilligan Holton, owner of Harlemrnnightspots with names like Busted andrnthe Broken Leg. He wrote about streetrnpreachers like the Reverend James JeffersonrnDavis Hall, who carried a WherernWill You Spend Eternity? sign up andrndown the sidewalks of the theater district.rnHe wrote about Miss Mazie Gordon,rnowner of the Venice, a movie theaterrnin the Bowery. A tough-talking.rnFEBRUARY 1994/33rnrnrn