Review of Anne Jennings, “Empire of Dirt,” Luna Station Quarterly 22 (2015): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.
I found this story confusing; it was arranged into short scenes, and by the time I was five scenes in, I had to keep pausing to go backwards and forwards to determine whether the narrative character had changed, or whether the temporal location had changed, and I could never quite tell. Taken at face value, this is the story of a imprisoned 90yo, the daughter of an Azerbaijani carpet maker, who reminisces in prison about how they “read a book in my twenties about a fantasy world magically hidden in the knots and patterns of an oriental rug”, which sparked their fascination with carpets — why then, when the narrator has grown up among carpets from her birth? Why also does the narrator speak of arriving in Baku as an adult as if Azerbaijan is a foreign, unfamiliar company? (And how does the child of an Azerbaijani carpetmaker meet and become friends with a woman from Singapore in the 1940s [I’m guessing, based on the fact the narrator is 90 and her father was alive in 1921]?). By this point, I’ve even forgotten to wonder why the narrator is in prison in the first place!
Some of these questions get sorted out, but not all, and not until much later on; unfortunately, I spent too much time being uncertain of what was going on to be able to enjoy this story as much as I would have liked.