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Archive for the ‘Short Stories’ Category

I discovered Olive Senior through a friend’s recommendation. I was very excited to read my first book by her, ‘The Pain Tree‘.

The Pain Tree‘ is a collection of ten short stories. The title story ‘The Pain Tree‘ is about a young woman who comes back home after a long time and thinks about her childhood, especially about someone who brought her up. It is a beautiful, haunting story and one of my favourites from the book. In ‘Moonlight‘, the narrator likes getting up at night and going out in the moonlight, but one day she sees something that she is not supposed to, and her world turns upside down. ‘Silent‘ is what happens to a kid and his family who get caught in the middle of a gang shootout. In ‘A Father Like That‘, the narrator almost sings the story in Jamaican English, and it is such a pleasure to read. ‘Coal‘ is about a young woman, her housekeeper and a silent boy who works in their home. I learnt from this story that we can make coal out of wood, but the process is delicate and complex. I always thought that coal is only there in coal mines. The longest story in the book which runs to more than forty pages is ‘The Country Cousin‘. It has everything we’d expect from a long story – a wonderful start, interesting characters, conflict between characters, people plotting against each other, good characters suffering at the hands of the bad, a surprise ending. Whether the ending is happy or sad, you have to read the story to find out. The last story ‘Flying‘ is beautiful, sad, haunting, and has folkoric and magical elements in it. It made me think of one of my favourite books, ‘Root Magic‘ by Eden Royce. There are more stories, but I won’t say anything about them, but will let you discover their pleasures when you read them.

I’m glad I read my first Olive Senior book. I loved it. Hoping to read more of her books.

Have you read ‘The Pain Tree’? What do you think about it?

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Anuradha Ramanan was one of the popular Tamil writers during her time. She mostly wrote novels and short stories. She was quite prolific and wrote hundreds of novels and I think her short story count is beyond a thousand. In other words, if you are a completist, you can’t read her entire work – there is too much. I’ve seen my mom read her novels and gush about her as a person, but I never got around to reading an Anuradha Ramanan story till now. Whenever my dad saw my mom reading an Anuradha Ramanan story, my dad used to ask my mom why she was reading this rubbish. Anuradha Ramanan herself replies to that in her introduction to this collection. She says that her stories may not be great literature, but they are definitely not rubbish. She says that a normal person’s life is reflected in every story in the collection. She says that there is a resounding ring of truth in every story. She hopes that readers will like them.

There are 15 stories in this collection. Most of them are about women who are suppressed by their family, culture, society. Many of them defy the restraints imposed on them, sometimes quietly, sometimes with fire. In one story a woman continues to be happy, when society expects her to be unhappy. She is defiant with her happiness. Some stories have happy endings, others are dark. Some stories end in an unexpected surprise. Occasionally, the main character in a story is a man.

Anuradha Ramanan’s most famous short story, ‘Sirai‘ (‘Prison‘), is featured in the book. In this story, a young woman gets married and moves to her husband’s house in the village. One of the influential men in the village eyes her from the first day. One day when the husband is not at home, he enters their house and rapes her. When he comes out, the husband sees him and he immediately realizes what has happened. The husband is a spineless coward. He doesn’t have the courage to fight with the rapist or complain against him to the police. But he is not ready to ignore this and live on as if nothing has happened. So he does what cowards do – he abandons his wife and leaves the village overnight. The wife doesn’t know what to do. She doesn’t have anyone. She requests people around for help, but she doesn’t get any. She has to live in the temple and the post office and the railway station like a homeless person. One day she decides that she’s had enough. She takes her things and walks into the rapist’s house, and occupies part it. When her rapist tries to get in to find out what she is upto, she looks at him with fire in her eyes, and stops him at the entrance. Then she tells him that she is going to live there from that day onwards. Her rapist fears her and respects her and so do his servants. What happens after that, when these two people live in the same house in this strange, uneasy situation, forms the rest of the story. This story was made into a movie by the director K.Balachander, who liked making movies about unconventional, defiant women. I think the actress Lakshmi, who is an unconventional, defiant person in real life, played the main character in the movie.

Anuradha Ramanan was herself an unconventional, defiant person. She lost her husband at a young age, but refused to behave like a heartbroken widow (which was what was expected in her conservative community). She dressed up, was always happy, her enthusiasm was infectious. She worked as a staff writer in a magazine, wrote stories, became a popular writer, brought up her two daughters as a single mom, inspired young women who read her stories and her essays. In other words, she kicked ass. When we read her introduction to this collection, we can feel her warmth, her affection, her energy there. It feels like our big sister is talking to us. And we feel this warm and affection throughout the book, even when the stories are sad. Anuradha Ramanan was a happy person and it shows.

I loved this collection of Anuradha Ramanan’s stories. Hoping to read more.

Have you read any of Anuradha Ramanan’s stories? Which are your favourites?

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Sujatha is one of the great Tamil writers. He wrote books is many genres — crime fiction, science fiction, literary fiction, short stories, essays, nonfiction. He was a true all-rounder. He was kind of the founder of Tamil science fiction, or atleast its most famous exponent. I started reading Sujatha’s books when I was a teenager. I read his crime fiction first and loved it, and then later his science fiction. I loved that too. Later I read his plays, and was surprised by how good and fascinating they were. I feel that Sujatha reached his peak as a literary artist in his short stories and his plays. So it is odd that I’ve only dipped into his short stories, but never read a collection properly before. So I thought I’ll redeem that now, and read this collection of his short stories.

This collection has fifty short stories. They were written in a period between the late 1960s and the early 1980s. Sujatha says in his introduction that he was always working under the pressure of the deadline, and so many times he felt that he could have rewritten a particular short story in a better way, if he had more time. Sujatha says that the stories which didn’t make him feel that way — that is they looked good though they were written under deadline pressure — he included those stories in this collection.

There are all kinds of stories in this collection. Some have surprise endings, some are about small people who struggled in life but win in some way in the end, while other stories are about small people who are crushed by the system and by society. There are a couple of stories about depression which are heartbreaking. There are stories about women who struggle hard and try to get through each day, and there are other stories about women who show their defiance in unconventional ways. (One of the women, when she is asked why she is in a particular profession, replies that it is because she is arrogant and defiant 😁 She was one of the coolest characters in the book.) There were stories about how the government and the bureaucracy work and they were mostly Kafkaesque and hilarious. There were also stories about riots and the meaninglessness of violence. Sujatha is a master of the first paragraph,  the first page, and it shows in every story. Sujatha’s writing is breezy, conversational, cool and stylish, and it is a pleasure to read.

I loved all the stories in the book. I loved some more than the others, but I loved them all. It was 422 pages of pure pleasure. Hoping to read the second volume of this series soon.

A couple of Sujatha’s books have been translated into English. I’m not sure which stories are featured in them, but if you want to get a feel for his style, you can dip into them.

Have you read Sujatha’s short stories? What do you think about them?

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Seamus Heaney waxing lyrically in purple prose in his introduction to Michael McLaverty’s Collected Short Stories 😊 Wish I could write like this 😊

“But realism is finally an unsatisfactory word when it is applied to a body of work as poetic as these stories. There is, of course, a regional basis to McLaverty’s world and a note-taker’s reliability to his observation, yet the region is contemplated with a gaze more loving and more lingering than any fieldworker or folklorist could ever manage. Those streets and shores and fields have been weathered in his affections and recollected in tranquility until the contours of each landscape have become a prospect of the mind…in his best work, the elegiac is bodied forth in perfectly pondered images and rhythms, the pathetic element qualified by something astute…His voice was modestly pitched, he never sought the limelight, yet for all that, his place in our literature is secure.”

Left : Michael McLaverty; Right : Seamus Heaney

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I recently read and loved a friend’s reviews of a couple of collections of R.Chudamani’s short stories. I realized that I had one collection of her stories at home and so decided to read that. R.Chudamani was one of my mom’s favourite writers. Everytime I went to the library, my mom used to ask me to get a book by her. But, inspite of this, I’ve never read a story by her. So I was very excited to read these stories by her.

This collection that I read had 63 short stories. Most of them were around 10 pages long. The stories were written in a period spanning 50 years, starting from the early 1950s to the early 2000s.

Many of the stories in the book depict the delicate, infinite states of the human heart, including love in its different forms. There are also many stories about women who fight in gentle ways against the restraints imposed by society and the patriarchy, and who sometimes win their freedom and independence. One of my favourite stories on this theme was about a woman who suffers her whole life. When she dies, a secret about her is revealed. We discover that there came a point in time when she was presented with two alternatives. She could have surrendered her freedom and lived a comfortable life, or she could have been free and would have suffered. She chose to be free and was defiant till the end, in her gentle soft way. There is also one interesting story in which the husband supports his wife when she pursues her interests and her dreams while their daughter is upset that her mom is independent and doing her own thing. In one of my favourite stories about love and attraction, a single mom encourages a young man who is courting her daughter, but the young man starts turning up when the daughter is not around and the mom discovers to her surprise that the young man is courting her. In another of my favourite stories a man is grieving the loss of his wife, and he is just ignored at the funeral, and the person who understands him and comforts him is his lover. In a couple of stories a young man’s heart opens up to love and desire for the first time, and the way Chudamani narrates the story is incredibly beautiful. There are also stories about the relationship between parents and children, about people who try bridging socio-economic barriers through love and friendship which sometimes doesn’t work. There is even a story in which God is the narrator. That story was fascinating.

I loved the whole collection. I knew that it would be good, but I didn’t know that it would be this good. Chudamani’s short stories didn’t read like short stories which came in popular magazines, which mostly had surprises with happy endings, but were complex, subtle and sophisticated. The editors say in their introduction that Chudamani’s art as a short story writer reached its heights in the 1970s, and when I read the book, I realized that it was true, because many of my favourite stories were those which came out in that decade. But I liked her stories from the other decades too. There is a beautiful interview by Chudamani at the end of the book in which she shares her thoughts on short stories. In reply to one of the questions, Chudamani says that writers shouldn’t use short stories as a training ground for writing their first novel, but should respect and love short stories as an independent art form. This is exactly what Alice Munro said years later when she won the Nobel Prize.

Ambai’s tribute to Chudamani

Chudamani was a prolific writer during her time. She has written around 574 short stories, but this collection which has around one-tenth of that, is the largest collection there is. Her stories have been translated into English during the past few years. There are atleast three translated editions in English, and they seem to be subsets of this Tamil collection.

Chudamani lived a simple life. She didn’t go to school and get a formal education, because of a health condition. She was homeschooled in her younger years. This makes her achievements as a short story writer even more astounding. She never married and stayed single all her life. Before she passed, she made a will and gave everything she had to charity, to help poor kids. It is unthinkable in these materialistic days. She was an amazing writer and a beautiful soul.

Have you read Chudamani’s short stories? What do you think about them?

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I was looking for short stories by Caribbean writers, recently, and I stumbled upon this collection, ‘Pepperpot : Best New Stories from the Caribbean‘ . I read this for #ReadIndies hosted by Kaggsy from Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings and Lizzy from Lizzy’s Literary Life. ‘Pepperpot‘ is published by Peekash Press, an indie publisher which promotes books by Caribbean writers who live in the Caribbean.

There are thirteen stories in the book. I enjoyed reading all of them. Some of my favourites are these.

The Whale House by Sharon Millar – A woman is mourning the loss of her baby. Then we learn about her past and her younger days and some beautiful secrets are revealed. The ending of the story was beautiful and perfect.

A Good Friday by Barbara Jenkins – A beautiful woman walks into a bar. A man tries courting her. It all looks quite predictable. But halfway through the story Barbara Jenkins steps on the pedal, and the story kicks to a different gear, in an unexpected way. I loved the way it ended. Barbara Jenkins has written a novel which features some of the same characters from this story, and I want to read that.

Amelia at Devil’s Bridge by Joanna C. Hillhouse – I loved Joanna C. Hillhouse’s novel ‘Musical Youth‘ and so was excited to read this. A young woman finds herself in the rocky shore of the sea and she is naked. She doesn’t know how she got there. What happens next and the truth when it is revealed is unexpected and heartbreaking.

Berry by Kimmisha Thomas – A beautiful lesbian love story. Loved it. Berry is such an awesome character. One of my favourite passages from the book is from this story. It goes like this –

“Berry once told me that she had always thought of herself as both female and male. I understand why some men are confused by lesbian logic. I’m confused too. I am sure Berry, so talented and beautiful, always has men lusting after her. I asked one time how she deals with that. She shrugged and said, “I just become their friend. They stay or they leave.” She told me her family knows about her. They neither accept nor deny it. “We just be, you know?” I didn’t know. I didn’t know whether I was gay or not, or whether this was just a phase. But maybe I did know, cause I was just being, like Berry’s family.”

The Science of Salvation by Dwight Thompson – A spiritual leader and his wife meet an old friend. This old friend has ended up on the wrong side of the law. The spiritual leader tries changing him. What happens after that is the rest of the story. Beautiful and moving and thought-provoking.

Waywardness by Ezekel Alan – It is about a person who is regarded as ‘wayward’. You should read the story to find out what that exactly means. The story was filled with dark humour and it made me laugh throughout.

“Father, Father” by Garfield Ellis – A teenager is fleeing his attackers. What happens next is the rest of the story. It is gripping and fast-paced and scary.

I loved ‘Pepperpot‘. There are stories in it about love, loss, family, being gay, forbidden relationships, faith, bad things happening. They were fascinating to read. The book has a beautiful introduction by Jamaican legend, Olive Senior.

Have you read ‘Pepperpot‘? What do you think about it?

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I thought It was time to write about my favourite books of the year 😊 Today, it is about short story collections. These are my favourite short story collections from this year.

(1) Fairground Magician by Jelena Lengold – I discovered Jelena Lengold’s books serendipitously this year. Now she is one of my favourite writers. Her short story collection ‘Fairground Magician’ is brilliant. There is a beautiful cat story in it called ‘Wanderings‘, which is one of my favourite cat stories ever. In another story called ‘Nosedive‘ there is a description of domestic intimacy which is one of the most beautiful descriptions I’ve ever read.

(2) Like Water and other stories by Olga Zilberbourg – Olga Zilberbourg writes in both English and Russian which is fascinating. ‘Like Water’ is her English short story collection and it is a beautiful, nuanced depiction of the Russian-American experience. The title story is beautiful and its last passage was one of the most beautiful I’ve read. ‘Sweet Porridge‘ is another beautiful story in which a Russian mother and her American child read a Grimm fairytale together and how their interpretation of the story is totally different.

(3) Death in the Museum of Modern Art by Alma Lazarevska – Alma Lazarevska’s short story collection is slim and has just six stories set during the siege of Sarajevo. Someone said this about her book – “There are books about which one talks and there are books with which one talks—Alma Lazarevska’s book is of the latter kind.” I can’t describe it better.

(4) The Encyclopedia of the Dead by Danilo Kiš – My first Danilo Kiš book. The book is worth reading just for the title story alone. It is about a woman who ends up in a library in the middle of the night and the amazing things she discovers there. A woman in a library who comes face-to-face with infinity – totally Borgesian isn’t it? 😊 How can we resist that?

(5) The Howling Silence by Catherine Lim – Singapore is famous for its ghost stories and haunted houses. Catherine Lim, one of Singapore’s greatest writers, gives us a glimpse into some of those ghost stories and supernatural legends. The stories in the collection are beautiful, subtle, suggestive, realistic. Not the typical kind of ghost story, but much much better and far more entertaining.

(6) Sarajevo Marlboro by Miljenko Jergović – My first Miljenko Jergović book. A beautiful, brilliant collection of short stories set in Sarajevo during the siege. The book has an introduction called ‘Everyday History‘ by Ammiel Alcalay, which is brilliant. Got Jergović’ ‘Kin‘ after I read this.

(7) Mars by Asja Bakić – Asja Bakić’s unusual collection has stories which are a blend of speculative fiction, sci-fi, feminism, eroticism, horror, murder mysrery. In other words, it is fascinating.

(8) Ten Nights Dreaming (and The Cat’s Grave) by Natsume Soseki – My first Natsume Soseki book. There is nothing much to say other than I’m glad I read my first book by the master and this book is fascinating.

(9) The Moment by Nura Bazdulj-Hubijar – Nura Bazdulj-Hubijar was a serendipitous discovery for me. The book is worth reading just for the first story alone, ‘Memento Mori‘, which is a revenge story, which is beautiful, dark, atmospheric, heartbreaking.

Have you read any of these collection? Which are your favourite short story collections this year?

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I discovered ‘The Moment‘ by Nura Bazdulj-Hubijar serendipitously while looking for something else.

Nura Bazdulj-Hubijar is a Bosnian writer who has written novels, short stories, poems and plays. ‘The Moment‘ is a collection of her short stories.

There are ten stories in ‘The Moment‘. The first story ‘Memento Mori‘ is nearly one-fourth the length of the book. It is set in the ’90s during the war in Bosnia. It is a sad, heartbreaking story with a surprising ending written in what can only be described as serene and tranquil prose. The surprises continue in the rest of the book. Nearly all the stories have surprise endings, and most of the time they are unexpected. ‘Dzevad of Sokolica‘ is a story about the beautiful friendship between a fifty year old man and a ten year old girl. It has a sad ending, which seems to be Nura Bazdulj-Hubijar’s favourite kind of ending, but the ending was so unexpectedly surprising that I didn’t see that coming. It also put the rest of the story in context and made me think. ‘Pigeon‘ has the feel of an Edgar Allan Poe story. ‘The Vase‘ is about a mother and her son. ‘Mother‘ is about a man who accidentally discovers a dark secret about his family which changes him as a person. I enjoyed reading all the stories in the book and I loved the surprise endings. My favourites were ‘Memento Mori‘ (because it was atmospheric, dark and heartbreaking) and ‘Dzevad of Sokolica‘ (because of its depiction of a beautiful friendship and the surprising ending). I want to read more of Nura Bazdulj-Hubijar’s stories. Hope they get translated into English.

I read this for ‘Women in Translation Month‘ which celebrates translated literature by women writers during the whole of August.

Have you read Nura Bazdulj-Hubijar’s book? What do you think about it?

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