If No One Speaks

The 26 stories in Sam Szanto’s debut collection, ‘If No One Speaks’, centre around the ideas of voicelessness and dispossession.

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.
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.



Publication Date

July 13, 2022