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IN BRIEF

Fiction

December 15, 1996|MICHAEL HARRIS

THE APPLE FALLS FROM THE APPLE TREE by Helen Papanikolas (Swallow Press: 241 pp., $27.95, cloth, $14.95, paper) In these two novellas and four stories, Helen Papanikolas shows us Greek immigrants and their descendants in Colorado and Utah living out the American dilemma: How can they hang onto the old culture while adapting to the new? A man who envies his brother-in-law's wealth compensates with a vain display of classical Greek learning. A woman whose father was a "labor agent" during the Depression discovers in her old age that other immigrants' show of respect for him had masked hatred and fear of losing their jobs. An emancipated young woman working at a county hospital in 1939 is disturbed by outbreaks of racism and reluctantly considers an arranged marriage within her ethnic group.

A Papanikolas story is old-fashioned, seemingly slow-moving, though it can sum up whole lives. It usually relies on patient description of customs and people--from small children to the elderly--rather than on plot twists to make its point, though now and then an epiphany gleams through. In the title novella, for example, one of two women from Greek Orthodox families who have married Mormons suddenly recognizes "their drifting away from each other as shame for straying from the ways of their people."

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