Greta & Valdin: A Novel

Greta & Valdin: A Novel

by Rebecca K Reilly
Greta & Valdin: A Novel

Greta & Valdin: A Novel

by Rebecca K Reilly

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Overview

A New York Times Editors’ Choice

For fans of Schitt’s Creek and Sally Rooney’s Normal People, an irresistible and bighearted international bestseller that follows a brother and sister as they navigate queerness, multiracial identity, and the dramas big and small of their entangled, unconventional family, all while flailing their way to love.

It’s been a year since his ex-boyfriend dumped him and moved from Auckland to Buenos Aires, and Valdin is doing fine. He has a good flat with his sister Greta, a good career where his colleagues only occasionally remind him that he is the sole Maaori person in the office, and a good friend who he only sleeps with when he’s sad. But when work sends him to Argentina and he’s thrown back in his former lover’s orbit, Valdin is forced to confront the feelings he’s been trying to ignore—and the future he wants.

Greta is not letting her painfully unrequited crush (or her possibly pointless master’s thesis, or her pathetic academic salary...) get her down. She would love to focus on the charming fellow grad student she meets at a party and her friendships with a circle of similarly floundering twenty-somethings, but her chaotic family life won’t stop intruding: her mother is keeping secrets, her nephew is having a gay crisis, and her brother has suddenly flown to South America without a word.

Sharp, hilarious, and with an undeniable emotional momentum that builds to an exuberant conclusion, Greta & Valdin careens us through the siblings’ misadventures and the messy dramas of their sprawling, eccentric Maaori-Russian-Catalonian family. An acclaimed bestseller in New Zealand, Greta & Valdin is fresh, joyful, and alive with the possibility of love in its many mystifying forms.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781668028049
Publisher: Avid Reader Press / Simon & Schuster
Publication date: 02/06/2024
Pages: 352
Sales rank: 44,848
Product dimensions: 6.20(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.40(d)

About the Author

Rebecca K Reilly (Ngaati Hine, Ngaati Rehua Ngaatiwai ki Aotea), born 1991, is a Maaori novelist from Waitaakere, New Zealand. She has a BA (hons) in German and European studies from the University of Auckland and an MA from the International Institute of Modern Letters at Victoria University of Wellington, where she won the Adam Foundation Prize in Creative Writing for 2019.

Read an Excerpt

Sender Sender
V

I come back to the apartment and find the worst thing in the world. A yellow postcard has been shoved between the door and its frame. This is not a postcard that says something like I wish you were here with me on the Costa del Sol or Why didn’t you tell me the Camino de Santiago is full of slow-moving retirees? This is a postcard that says CARD TO CALL. It means that someone has arrived at my apartment with a package after driving through the narrow city streets, probably double-parking, and walking up six flights of stairs, and then, seeing as I wasn’t there, because it was the middle of the day on a Wednesday and I do have some semblance of a life, has taken the package away again. Now I will have to go through the stress of relocating this product in whatever mystery location it happens to be in. I hope it’s not Penrose because I don’t have a car.

I pull the card out, and while I’m thinking of a way that I could pass this burden on to someone else, it occurs to me that I haven’t ordered anything. Maybe Greta ordered something? She orders a lot of books online and then shouts at me when they arrive. She shouts that she knows it’s unethical to buy books from big conglomerates but it’s the government’s fault that she can’t afford to be an ethical consumer because they took away allowances for postgraduate students in 2012. That’s her official statement, but I know she just doesn’t like the girl who works at the bookshop near our house.

Greta and I were at our uncle’s birthday recently, and she had too many Bacardi and lemonades and announced that the girl who works in the bookshop near our house thinks she’s better than everyone because she works in a bookshop and has a stupid nightingale tattoo and, well, Greta has also read Oscar Wilde, so this girl can fuck right off. I said I think the people at the bookshop are fine, and she told me to go and fuck the Happy Prince with them, then. I don’t like them enough to suggest we have an orgy with a fictional French statue. Not at this stage, anyway. When I turn the card over and read it properly, I see that it isn’t for Greta. It says VALADDIN VLADISAV J in big Sharpie letters. This isn’t how I usually spell my name, but I can’t prove beyond reasonable doubt that they meant someone else.

I painstakingly enter the twelve-digit reference code into the courier website. The package is at the depot on Victoria Street West, which isn’t far away, but it’s hot and I want to go inside. I walk back down all the stairs, groaning. I want to sit on my nice new turquoise couch, drink the sparkling apple juice that’s in the fridge, and read my book of Spanish poems. I don’t like reading about pain and trauma, I have the Al Jazeera app for that. And at the moment, for personal reasons, I don’t like reading things about people being in love with each other either. Greta studies comparative literature, and I can hear her exclaiming things in her room all the time, like, Oh, god, this man’s just bloody jumped out the window because of hyperinflation! Oh, Jesus Christ, everyone’s got cholera because the warning posters are all in Italian! A book about the beauty of the desert and sea and mountains and other Spanish landscape features avoids such things, for the most part.

I don’t let myself consider going back inside as I leave the apartment building. I have to follow through with everything I plan to do. If I don’t, I’ll feel as if I’ve upset the natural order of things. Sometimes when I think things aren’t going quite as I would like them to, I burst into tears or throw up. It’s so bad, it’s so embarrassing. I can’t handle people cancelling plans with me. This happens, of course; plans change all the time. I wish I could be chill about things like that; I wish I could receive a message about not wanting to go and see the new remake of Pet Sematary because it’s actually supposed to be really bad, but I can’t. I just say that I don’t mind, but I do, and I go down to Event Cinemas Queen Street by myself because if I don’t I’ll throw up in my just-cleaned bathroom sink. Having OCD is so stupid. I wish I had something cool, like double joints or purple eyes. I feel as if the pathways in other people’s brains are like well-maintained Department of Conservation hiking trails, while mine are modelled on the dodgiest slides at Waiwera Thermal Resort after it was shut down.

There are a lot of teenagers hanging around the fountain in Ellen Melville Square, their hands in the water in the January heat. Kids who go to the fancy city school with subjects like media design instead of uniforms. I went to a state school that was famous for its championship-winning sports teams and infamous for stealing promising athletes from other schools. None of this had anything to do with me. Greta wasn’t involved with any sports either, except for a brief stint as a tennis player that was mainly to do with a short story she’d read about people playing tennis in the 1940s and wanting to wear a white skirt. Our older brother, Casper, was involved with sports insofar as he wanted to report the school to the media over the sudden influx of boys on the rugby team who looked about twenty-one and all claimed to be transfer students from Foxton, but our mum strongly suggested that he keep his head down and get enough credits to pass without creating a media circus in our front yard.

I didn’t cause any problems. I didn’t say a single word to anyone the whole time I was at school, which was troubling to my parents, but the teachers didn’t really have time to worry about it. Then my parents didn’t have time to worry about it either, because Casper impregnated someone and ran away to Moscow. I was good at things, still. First in physics, first in maths, first in history. I yearned to learn French, though. I wanted to wear a beret and meet a mysterious man late at night in a Parisian park. My ideas of what was sexy and what happened under cover of darkness due to conditions of homophobic oppression hadn’t been fully developed at that stage.

The footpath on High Street is narrow, and I keep swerving around the bags of rubbish outside the shops and stepping off the kerb to let other people pass. I’m wearing jeans and white sneakers, a bad choice, because now I’m worrying about them getting dirty and it’s way too hot. People smoke shisha all day and night on this part of the street, the raspberry smoke clouds lingering in the dense humidity. It must be nearly thirty degrees. I’ve never smoked shisha, it’s too much of a public statement. The men sit with their legs very wide apart, and these jeans are new and too tight to do that. I prefer to sit with my legs crossed, anyway.

On Victoria Street, I start to worry about what the package might be. Maybe an official letter in a flat cardboard packet. I could technically become a Russian citizen—maybe they’ve sent me a letter saying I have to go there and serve in the army. God, wouldn’t that be just the worst? What does their uniform look like? I look good in green, but I don’t want to kill anyone. Or get up early. And my heart tells me their uniform might be navy. What else could the package be? I wait at the diagonal crossing outside Farmers, and I have a bad and confusing feeling that might be more than just the heat.

Why would he have sent me anything? He’s been gone physically for more than a year now, and recently he’d all but evaporated from my mind as well. Why did I have to think of him again? I feel the folded Card to Call in my jeans pocket and think about him having touched it too, which doesn’t even make sense, and I hate myself for it. Why would he have sent me anything? Why would he want anything to do with me? He was the one who broke up with me, that day in June, it was raining, I had come home early because I thought we could get a table somewhere nice if we went right then.

Xabi. God. I try not to think his name or say it out loud, using choice words like someone I knew and this guy I went out with. Those phrases always fool the listener. They make Xabi sound like a guy I met at the clubs and went for brunch with a few times before realising I just liked açai bowls and didn’t like him at all. It was not like that. I loved him in a way I’ve never been able to love another person. When I was with him, it felt like nothing else mattered and I would be fine forever. That sounds stupid, but it’s how I felt. I think that’s how he felt too. I wasn’t living in a fantasy of my own creation, my friends weren’t at Food Alley drinking Black Russians and talking about how dumb I was for thinking I loved someone ridiculous, someone with a chest tattoo and a bejewelled vape, the kind of person who would leave you for someone they met at the trap club night you didn’t want to go to because it seemed like cultural appropriation and it didn’t start until midnight.

People liked us together, even though he was older than me. He was conscious of that; he wasn’t one of those guys who makes a habit of dating younger men. He didn’t make a habit of dating anyone, really. That made me feel special, but maybe in retrospect it was a red flag. He was used to being alone. He always felt like he was in the way. Things went wrong when I started feeling bad all the time, crying every morning before work. I didn’t know what the problem was. No one wants to go to work; you just have to. Xabi thought it was his fault and went to live on a ranch in Argentina by himself. I don’t resent him for doing that. I was so deep inside how bad I felt that I wasn’t able to articulate what the problem was to anyone, not even to myself. I just really wanted him to love me and I was upset that I had become so deeply unlovable. Then it turned out that I just didn’t want to be a physicist, despite having studied to be one for eight years, but he was gone by the time I figured that out.

Sometimes I think I can regain control by doing everything right, but the things I think I need to do don’t make any sense. It’s like being extremely superstitious but also hating yourself. When I don’t do things right and I check Al Jazeera, I think everything is my fault. The war rages on in Yemen because I didn’t close the freezer properly. The Amazon burns because I bought socks from the Korean stand in the arcade that were too small. People own five properties while other people sleep in cars because I dropped my phone and it cracked. I know it sounds self-centred. It’s a horrible way to feel, and I wish I felt some other way. I walk up the hill past the Sky Tower, and if it falls over today, it won’t be my fault. I’m going to pick up the package right now.

I can tell things are not going to be easy when I enter the post depot. There is a queue, and the woman running the show looks as if she was once an excellent shot-putter. A man in front of me wearing a mismatched basketball uniform and Nike slides is holding a Malaysian passport, a driver’s licence, and what looks like a power bill. Jesus Christ, it’s like trying to buy a gun in here. Or applying for a library card.

The guy at the front of the line hasn’t got his Card to Call or a photo ID, but he does have cargo shorts and too many keys. He’s shouting about how he’s an electrician. None of that matters here; no one wants to hear his sob story. The argument rages on for several tense minutes, and the man leaves with nothing, pushing past me and muttering. This makes me feel like I’m a part of the show. I’m Miss Brill in the Katherine Mansfield story “Miss Brill.” She thinks she’s observing everyone in a park in France, but it turns out everyone’s looking at her and thinking about how she’s a miserable old bitch. No, I don’t want to be her at all.

“NEXT.”

The basketball man throws down all his forms of ID. The post depot woman is sizing him up; is this man going to get his package today? She takes pity on him, and he thanks her profusely. He rips his package open. It’s an HDMI cable.

I step forward. The counter is grey with a peeling laminate top and multiple taped-down notices about ID requirements. There are three wires strung across the front of the window, I guess to stop you from jumping over and grabbing your package in frustration. I’m too tall; I peer at the woman between the wires. Her name badge says LORETTA.

“How can I help you today, sir?” Loretta asks.

“Hello, I’d like to pick up a package,” I say, in what I hope is a bright and friendly voice.

She looks at me like this is the dumbest fucking thing anyone’s ever said to her. She has her hair gelled back in the tightest bun. I’ve put gel in my hair before, but I looked creepy and scared myself. I looked like Bela Lugosi.

“Do you have a Card to Call?”

“Yes, I do.”

“Well, where is it?”

I put it on the counter, and Loretta picks it up in disbelief. “This is your name? Your name is Valaddin? Like Aladdin?”

“No, that’s not my name, my name is Valdin.”

“Valdin Valaddin?”

“No, Valdin Vladisavljevic.”

She looks at me like I’m joking. I like my name, but I kind of wish I was joking right now.

“Why does this say Valaddin then?”

“I’m not sure, I guess the courier spelt it wrong,” I say, and then feel guilty about it. I’m reluctant to blame anyone but myself.

She shakes her head and goes over to the computer. “Spell it.”

“Um, V-A-L, like Valerie Adams, D-I-N.”

She raises an eyebrow. “B-I-N, like chuck it in the bin?”

“No, D, like... eternal damnation.”

“Oh, yep. And your last name.”

“Do you just want to look at my licence?”

“Don’t have my glasses.” She stares impatiently at the computer screen.

“V-L-A-D, like Gladwrap, but with a V for... Vortex Mega Howler. Then I-S, like...” I can’t say Islamic State; that’s not a good example. “Like isthmus. A-V, like an AV library; L-J, like L.J. Hooker—”

“The real estate company?”

“Yeah.”

“Then what?”

“E-V-I-C. Echo, Victor, Indigo, Charlie.” I forgot I knew the real phonetic alphabet.

She does some more typing. “You from Slovakia?”

“Oh, um, nah, I’m Maori. My dad’s, um, Russian, though.”

She raises an eyebrow again. “Your package is here. I’ll just go get it.”

I’ve been so distracted that I forgot how worried I am. My heart rate rises as Loretta shuffles off and searches in some bins behind her. Who’s sending me something, and why? I hope Xabi hasn’t sent me anything for my birthday. Why would he want to do that? And my birthday isn’t until next month anyway.

Loretta comes back with a thick brown envelope, scans a barcode on it, and hands it to me under the bottom wire.

“There you go, Valdin. Now you just sign there and then have a good day, okay.”

“You have a good day too, Loretta.”

“Oh, I will,” she says confidently.

I take the package outside, and I feel like my ribs are going to burst apart. I walk down the concrete steps and stand in a small carpark next to a wall of red post office boxes. The package feels like a book. I have a sudden horrible image of Xabi having sent me back a book of mine that got mixed up with his things. The book was called Summerhouse, Later, and it was very special to me, but I don’t ever want to see it again. I don’t want to see it back here with a handwritten note saying something like V—found your book while I was sorting through things. Hope you’re well, X. I don’t want to see that.

I tear the side off the envelope and slide the contents out. It is a book. It is a book called Dead Sea Fungi: Fungal Life in the Dead Sea. What a stupid, stupid title. There is a note tucked into the cover.

Dear Prof. Vladisavljevic,

Thank you so much for your recent lecture at our research facility, it was greatly enjoyed by all and very informative regarding the recent developments in your region.

We hope to see you in Oman again soon,

Dr. Hissah Asfour

This isn’t for me; this is for my dad. My dad has the same name as me. They must have used the university database; we’re both in there. No one’s sent me anything. I don’t know why I thought they would.

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