If No One Speaks
If ‘No One Speaks’, Sam’s debut short story collection, was published by Alien Buddha Press in August 2022.
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'I challenge anyone to read this book and not relate fully to the people occupying the pages, to not feel empathy rise within them, to not rediscover forgotten or neglected aspects of themselves and what it means to be human, and to not feel more alive as a result. What a wonderful and varied journey Sam Szanto’s If No One Speaks is.'
Paul Ings, author of 'One Week, One Span of Human Life'
The 26 stories in Sam Szanto’s debut collection, ‘If No One Speaks’, centre around the ideas of voicelessness and dispossession.
The theme of displacement manifests physically, many of the characters living in brutal environments or trapped away from home: as in ‘Mikey’, when two sisters are stuck in a car on their way to their father’s funeral. In others, characters endure mental alienation, whether from unsuitable lovers, their physical environment or due to being unable to speak about brutality.
Displacement is also dealt with through the subject of crime: ‘My Sister the Murderer’ is about a woman who frames her sister for murder; in ‘The Yellow Circle’ a policewoman commits a crime after becoming obsessed with a particular scent, and in ‘Making Memories’ two girls on holiday in Thailand become drug mules; the characters must deal with enforced separation because of their actions.
Every story concerns a relationship, usually one facing a difficulty. ‘Well, we are in Spain’ is about a romantic relationship threatened by a man’s female best friend; ‘Inaccrochable’ concerns an extra-marital affair jeopardised by lockdown; ‘Phil in Real Life’ is about how the idea of online dating often differs from the reality; ‘The Second Therapy Session’ is also likely to be the last for one couple, while in ‘Don’t Refuse Me’ a woman is taken by surprise by a less than romantic marriage proposal. Many of the stories are about those separated from loved ones, and the courage it takes to bear this. Family is a focus of the collection, from a story about a woman who has to physically let go of her daughter in a towerblock fire (‘Letting Go’), to three stories about daughters grieving their fathers.
Some stories feature the supernatural, such as ‘The Stranger in the Living Room’ that is about a woman’s encounter with a vampire; in ‘Everyone Loved Romy’ a man sees the ghost of his past love at a school reunion; in ‘Apple Crumble Baked by a Ghost’ a ghost appears to support and cook for her daughter, while in ‘Someone Just Like Me’, a woman finds herself confronted with someone whose looks and experiences mirror her own so closely she could be a doppelganger.
There is a strong theme of women’s resilience and ability to overcome adversity in the collection. The protagonists, wherever they live and whoever they encounter, are relatable and the writing is often comic as well as evocative. Many stories end with the sense that the characters will be redeemed or that their lives will improve.
The majority of the stories feature displaced or alienated female protagonists. There are sub-themes of love, loss, incarceration, the forbidden and female solidarity. The protagonists are a variety of ages in diverse situations, in settings spanning the globe, including: a Russian prison, a Bangladeshi brothel, a Thai jail, a Madrid market and the English Lake District.
The stories are structured around their dialogue with each other, one piece speaking to the next through subject or tone. The title story, ‘If No One Speaks’, about Russian women’s resilience and endeavour to speak out in prison, is followed by ‘Quiet Love’, about nuns who fall in love in a convent, after which comes ‘125’ about a young woman living in a brothel who is attracted to a married client. The stories come thematically full circle, with the first story ending with a mother’s plea for her daughter not to grow up in silence and the final story closing with a mother and a daughter singing together.
This is such an intriguing collection of short stories. You literally travel the world. Often I
followed each word and was certain where the story was going, yet Sam
Szanto left me to imagine my own story ending.
Szanto sucked me in to 125, with the push and pull of real life situations I
hope I never need to know. We all can only pray to never understand the
totality of Letting Go.
Every story is so well crafted you are glued in place. Each piece is
completely new, inviting, and riveting. Time and space mean nothing as I
was compelled to keep reading.
Each story has its own characters and voice with incredible writing that
creates so many unexpected twists and turns you feel your roller coaster
car just might tip.
Thasia Anne, author of 'Sea Escapes'
Sam Szanto speaks for all humanity in her versatile and deeply engaging collection. She covers the entire range of human experience—from the birth of relationships, to their sad demise, from the agony of loss, the sting of envy, to the hope for a new tomorrow. Her characters are realistic because they are flawed in ways that invoke our empathy.
Szanto’s use of metaphor and simile is inventive and precise, forming beautiful prose that cuts to the emotional bone. She has a knack for pulling the reader into relationships, the quiet secret spaces between people that are never voiced or heard. Some of the stories, like Letting Go, left me in tears. Others, like John and Phil in Real Life, are darkly humorous. Many leave you in a bittersweet, literary swoon, like 125 and Inaccrochable.
This collection will be savored by readers who crave stories with bold, clever writing, emotional depth, and themes relatable to all of us.
Christa Wojciechowski, author of 'Oblivion Black'
‘If No One Speaks’ by Sam Szanto is a powerful collection of short stories exploring the themes of voicelessness, displacement and dispossession.
At the heart of most stories is a woman; a nun, a twin, a prisoner and more. Each character is completely unique, finely drawn with careful attention to details, and each of them is given an equally unique challenge which they must overcome.
Szanto's writing grabs you by the hand and leads you into each story. Once there, you find yourself immersed in a world of beautifully observed details. Her ability to create nail - biting tension keeps you turning pages as you race to discover the endings.
This is a fine collection of stories which I cannot recommend highly enough. Five stars and more!
Annie Cowell, author of Birth Motes
Although clearly works of the imagination, the stories of contemporary life in this collection don’t come across that way at all. The pacing is impeccable, emotion and tensions often build unostentatiously, they grow surreptitiously as if within the reader until there you are, caught up in the story. This is made possible partly because the narrative voice is so natural, bringing to mind the development in Chekhov’s short stories. It is also made possible because Szanto is a true storyteller and a careful observer of people, namely an obvious talent.
I fully recommend you treat yourself to the work of this up-and-coming writer.
Paul Ings, author of 'One Week, One Span of Human Life'
This collection is a deep dive into the hearts and minds of fully realized characters. Filled with strong female leads up against the odds, the stories take readers on a journey through formidable circumstances like imprisonment, murder, impending death, while also touching on themes of grief, family, and love. Every story in this collection is engaging and profound. A true fiction writer, Szanto creates immersive worlds with people in situations we all recognize and fear, giving us the opportunity to empathize and consider our own actions. Engaging and meaningful, “If No One Speaks” is a powerhouse of a book.
Sara Dobbie, author of 'Static Disruption'
These are stories that dance on the edge, taking the familiar and remote, giving every character a voice. The writing is biting and sharp. No subject is shied away from, stories are always confronted head on. From Russian prisons to Grenfell Tower Sam tells stories for the the voiceless, always with compassion and without fear or prejudice.
A sparkling range and a wonderful talent. I can’t wait for more .
Rachel Canwell, author of 'Oh I Do Like to Be'
Each story bristles with eclectic life and spirit. Szanto writes about mistaken identities, fires, sports days, and stabbings. Mothers, nuns, prisoners, and mountain climbers.
These far-reaching stories burn with a white-hot intensity. There are stories in quiet moments alongside those that catch moments of crisis and trauma. Stories with characters who scream out their fear, hope and longing. Her prose is honest and hits hard and isn’t easily forgotten.
Keely O'Shaughnessy, author of 'Baby is a Word Best Whispered'
These stories will stop you in your tracks. They are powerfully written and rarely start without a bang. Szanto has a real eye for opening images and the stories unfold with great control.
Philip Charter, author of 'Fifteen Brief Moments in Time'