Book Review: On Dalia Rosenfeld's THE WORLDS WE THINK WE KNOW

It was a pleasure to write "Bodies Testing Boundaries: Dalia Rosenfeld's THE WORLDS WE THINK WE KNOW" for The Rumpus. This review of Rosenfeld's work allowed me to dive deeply into the ways we think about boundaries, whether physical or phantom, forged or inherited. Rosenfeld's short story collection is a treat and highly recommended. 

Thank you to Abigail Bereola for her incisive editorial guidance and helping bring this to life on The Rumpus. 



In Dalia Rosenfeld’s beautiful debut story collection, The Worlds We Think We Know, there is a prevalent theme of foreign bodies testing boundaries, rendered through wonderfully crafted vignettes and longer narratives in which vivid scenes show us the clarity, satisfaction, or longing we experience when attempting to get to know someone. The collection plays with relationships in all their forms: how people connect, disconnect, and try to connect with each other and with their surroundings.

But Worlds isn’t a typical slice-of-life story collection, and it is Rosenfeld’s mastery of craft that makes each story notable. Readers are plunged into that difficult-to-attain space between conventional and magical realism, a space where each moment is heightened through Rosenfeld’s careful choice of language, dialogue, and scene structure.

In these twenty short stories, readers can better understand those distinct borders of culture and heritage, particularly Jewish cultural identity, through the eyes of Rosenfeld’s characters. In most of the narratives, there is a weight of Judaic history carried by the characters, with Jewish history serving as a background to who they are or how they found themselves in their current situations. In “The Worlds We Think We Know,” the story begins with an American woman’s regular visits to an elderly Holocaust survivor’s home, for no explicit purpose, it seems, than to connect with the old man and spend time with him. The woman becomes romantically involved with a soldier who also has a connection to the elderly man. In “Flight,” a Jewish college student is head over heels for a Jewish boy named Danny. She decides to hold a private piano concert for him, but must navigate the tensions strung between her own identity, Danny’s ambivalence, and her closest friend and supporter, Kyo, who is clearly in love with her. In “Daughters of Respectable Houses,” an intellectual housewife is determined to fix up her new acquaintance Sophie, a modern Israel historian, with a nice man while Sophie is scholar-in-residence in the States. But when the question of Sophie’s sexual orientation arises in conversation, the narrator must question her own assumptions of love, freedom and partnership.

Rosenfeld’s stories are primarily told from the first-person views of different women, their names withheld, their narratives set in sometimes unnamed locations: they could be young women sitting next to any of us on the bus, walking down a sidewalk, or socializing in a cafe in the United States or in Israel. The location informs the atmospheric details for each character’s situation in which she finds herself, but it is ultimately the relationships and human interactions in each story that drive the collection. This is Rosenfeld’s gift through her craft: she heightens our longing to cross borders into belonging, to make the foreign experience more intimate through detailed scenes and surreal, pitch-perfect dialogue. Rosenfeld takes the notion of place—whether it is an American woman visiting Jerusalem or a young girl growing up in Paris—and sets it in the background as an additional layer for the reader to enjoy. The author draws attention to the interactions between two people and the ways we place—or attempt to place—ourselves into each other’s lives.