Book Reviews: Collections

Essays • Poetry • Short Stories

Click on the title to access the full review.

Books are listed alphabetically by author.

Aerogrammes: And Other Stories by Tania James • Gaining Lost Ground • Following her successful and highly-acclaimed debut novel, Atlas of Unknowns (India Currents, August 2009), Tania James’ latest offering is Aerogrammes: And Other Stories, a collection of tightly-written, language-loving short fiction. These nine stories explore personal unease, family disappointment, and acceptance in lieu of compromise. Aerogrammes consists of stand-alone stories, making it convenient to pick up the book and read at will rather than follow a prescribed sequence.  All of the stories previously appeared in Boston Review, Granta, Kenyon Review, and other reputable short fiction outlets before they found a communal home at Knopf.  In 2012, the collection was included in Oprah’s Summer Reading List.

What You Call Winter by Nalini Jones • Chapattis and Communion • According to a BBC report dated May 10, 2006, “It is estimated that there are about 18 million Roman Catholics in India, with 500,000 living in Mumbai. The Christian community comprises about 2-percent of India’s population of over one billion.” Nalini Jones’ debut collection of short stories, What You Call Winter, brings to life the India described by BBC, an India that many people don’t realize exists. These character-driven stories, the impact of which becomes apparent after the last page is read and the cover is closed, feature interesting personalities at important junctures in their lives. The characters continually draw the reader’s thoughts back to Santa Clara and St. Hilary Road, the fictional community and geographical thread that tie the stories together.

Under Her Skin edited by Pooja Makhijani • Peeling Off the Layers • “I decided that everything I am is important,” writes Devorah Stone in her essay, “Except.” She and the 20 other women who contributed to Under Her Skin share this celebration of self but not without reliving what made them the women they are today. Edited by Pooja Makhijani, this collection of essays expresses everything from residual anger to amused sadness. Never easy, always honest, often innocent, rarely less-than-complex, these stories share the thoughts and emotions of women who, in their childhoods, realized that while race is inherent, racism is learned.

India Gray: Historical Fiction by Sujata Massey • A Quartet of Mighty Women • If you’re looking for something fresh that offers variety and suspense in storytelling, Sujata Massey’s latest book, India Gray: Historical Fiction, is the perfect read. Even if the genre isn’t your first choice for reading material, Massey’s writing is so fluid and captivating that her smartly-drawn characters—definitely products of their time—are easy to love for who they are and what they champion: truth, love, compassion, and determination. The book contains two novellas and two short stories that offer something for everyone. Each of the four stories features a strong female lead that demands the reader’s attention, supporting characters that satisfy, and conflicts that intrigue.

Hands for Language by Uma Menon • An Accomplished Poetic LifeA poet is, before anything else, a person who is passionately in love with language. – W. H. Auden • In reading 16-year-old Uma Menon’s debut collection of poetry, it is obvious that W. H. Auden was speaking about her. For that matter, the fact that the author is a teen should not make the reader shy away from her work and chalk up the 96-page volume of poetry to rhymey-rhymes or hip-hop repetition. On the contrary, Menon’s poems are as well crafted as those written by one twice her age with an equally-impressive and diverse backlog of publication.

A Feast Of Serendib: Recipes from Sri Lanka by Mary Anne Mohanraj • Getting back to food, there’s nothing more comforting than a cookbook that brings the love of sharing food onto its pages. Mohanraj’s is a volume of family history plus tips and hints about where to purchase hard-to-find ingredients, what to substitute in a pinch, and options for preparing the snacks, entrées, sides, beverages, and desserts. Kitchen-tested, family-approved recipes left me drooling and eager to start cooking something new.

Transactions of Belonging by Jaya Padmanabhan • Desperately Seeking Purchase • The guiding spirit of award-winning author Jaya Padmanabhan’s acutely insightful debut collection of stories, Transactions of Belonging, is found in the title. True, book titles must be meaningful. However, a closer examination of this particular title allows a far deeper appreciation of the content. A transaction is a deal, bargain, enterprise, venture, or affair. People conduct transactions every day, consciously and unconsciously. Transactions of all manners occur between family members, colleagues, and people with whom one comes in contact, which means relationships are involved.

Open Mic: Riffs on Life Between Cultures in Ten Voices edited by Mitali Perkins • Award-winning author Mitali Bose Perkins contributes to and edits this lively collection of short fiction and non-fiction pieces that puts a humorous spin on an otherwise serious subject. Drawing on their own experiences, ten Young Adult (YA) authors tell stories that break down cultural and racial barriers. In the introduction, Perkins states, “Once you’ve shared a laugh with someone, it’s almost impossible to see them as ‘other’.”

Karma and Other Stories by Rishi Reddi • Instant Karma • In Buddhism, the law of karma says that one event causes another, pleasant or unpleasant, according to the event being skillful or unskillful. In Karma and Other Stories, first-time author Rishi Reddi has skillfully—and pleasantly—created a series of seven short stories set within a fictionalized Telugu community in the Boston area. The result is a moving study of characters finding self, purpose, and place while realizing their karma. “I wrote about what I’m familiar with and what’s important to me: the stories around Indian immigration to this country, what we sacrifice and what we gain as immigrants,” Reddi commented in an email interview.

Don’t Let Him Know by Sandip Roy • The Art of Happiness • In Anna Karenina, Tolstoy wrote, “All happy families are alike…” Author Sandip Roy disagrees with that opinion and proves it in his debut novel in stories, Don’t Let Him Know. The stories center on the Mitra family of Calcutta—Avinash, Romola, and their son Amit—and examine the challenges of maintaining a fairly drama-free existence. Moving across time, zigzagging from the United States to India and back again, using specific events of varying importance, the scope of the two generations is fully measured as much by what they do not say or do as by their speech and actions.

This Is One Way to Dance: Essays by Sejal Shah • Dancing in Plain Sight • Shah’s collection is an exploration of the sharp corners of the hypervisibility and invisibility she bore—identity, race, acceptance, foreignness in her own country. “Dance” offers twenty-five of Shah’s writings and is chronicled by the year written (1999—2019). The result is an inspiring autobiographical search for identity in her birth country, a country that prides itself on its diversity yet persists in designating “Other” to strip away one’s non-white distinctiveness.

A Life of Adventure and Delight by Akhil Sharma • Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness • From the award-winning author of An Obedient Father (2001 Hemingway Foundation PEN Award) and Family Life (2014 New York Times Best Books of the Year; 2015 Folio Prize; and 2016 International DUBLIN Literary Award), comes a collection of short stories that entertains and spares no one. In Akhil Sharma’s A Life of Adventure and Delight, eight stories explore the quest for perceptible love, the life and liberty of relationships, and the perpetual pursuit of happiness.

In the Convent of Little Flowers by Indu Sundaresan • Convent to Contemplate • Indu Sundaresan, the author of three sweeping India-centric historical novels, has changed gears and written a collection of nine contemporary short stories. Thoroughly unapologetic in presentation and tone, Sundaresan’s serenely-titled In the Convent of Little Flowers deals with subjects that are neither comfortable nor lightweight. What the collection accomplishes is the stimulation of thought about existing evils such as—but certainly not limited to—child abandonment, elder abuse, women’s rights and struggles, and archaic, illegal practices that have no place in modern society. In the Convent of Little Flowers is the vehicle by which Sundaresan unblinkingly examines the various sides of traditional beliefs and modern life.

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