Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Drizzle of Yesteryears And Other Stories

Drizzle of Yesteryears And Other Stories by M.K. Ajay; published by Frog Books; review copy supplied by author.

The Plot: This is a collection of short stories about people "from Pambunkavu, a fictional village situated in the Malabar region of Kerala, a southern Indian state," and is divided into two parts: At Home and In Exile.

The Good: A few months ago I was contacted via email by the author. I usually get emailed about children's and teen books, so it was quite a change to be getting one about a grown up book. And since it's about both what I like (short stories) and what I'm unfamiliar (South Asian literature), I wanted to read it. (And, of course, I told the author the usual: no guarantee of a review, let alone a positive review.)

I enjoyed this collection of short stories. They were exactly that; short stories, glimpses into the lives of assorted men and women of different ages; some traditional, some modern, usually just a handful of pages long. Many had a twist or surprise ending. Yes, there were words I didn't know; but it didn't interfere with understanding these stories.

Temple Of Snakes was about an old man ("It had taken him more than sixty years to realize that Sunday afternoons were indeed different from other afternoons,") and the people left behind when others emigrate. Divarkaran has been contacted about a relative from the US who wants to sell the land back in India. While this is about India, it is also universal; when my grandparents visited relatives in Ireland in the 1960s, there was a concern that they had come to claim (and force the sale of) the land. As with all these stories, the Indian point of view is present without ever being obvious. Divarkaran "could see only light, light as far as his eye could see and an endless messy white that was difficult to erase through reason."

A Question Of Morality appears to be about two friends having a philosophical discussion about life and choices. "You know, Kunju, there are many alternatives one would have had in his youth. Each one of those discarded choices comes back to you later as regrets. The more you excel in something, the more you are killing another part of you. You can't escape that." But, like many of these stories, there is a twist at the end that reminds me of both O Henry and Saki, and demanded an immediate reread of the story.

Drizzle of Yesteryears is about returning to the family home from America; getting in touch with all those back in India, those who are known and known via family stories. Again, what struck me is a story both unique and universal. Who hasn't been in exile? Or returned to a home that is familiar only thru story? Or not familiar even when it should be?

Rebirth's main character is worried about money and business when he is reminded of who he used to be and how he used to paint. He starts painting again: "He will paint again till art heals, shattering his shell of pretensions."

Spam Again: All these stories are set in the present, but they are set in different areas and different types of people. Here, it's a very modern man who gets what appears to be just another spam email over the Internet. But is it something more? "Loneliness occurs only why you expect to belong."

A Flight To Norway almost enters Twilight Zone territory, as the narrator wonders, where is Indran going? And why?

There are universal themes and messages in these stories; about connections, community, and what makes something "home." But, at the same time, the setting was distinct and clear, a peak into a way of life in India. I haven't read any South Asian literature, let alone short stories, so I cannot say how this story collection is in comparison to existing books and stories. I can say, that for someone not in India, who knows little about that country, this collection is a great glimpse into another country.

In addition to recommending this book to anyone who likes short stories, especially ones with a twist; or anyone interested in Indian literature; I'd also recommend it for High Schools and Universities who are looking to expand the types of stories they are looking at in class.


Anonymous said...

"I haven't read any South Asian literature," says Liz B.

"Wha?!?!" says Pooja.

You have my recommendations for children's reads, but if you are looking for other "adult" titles, here's a list of my favorite titles:

-The Glass Palace by Amitav Ghosh
-Moth Smoke by Mohsin Hamid
-The Buddha of Suburbia by Hanif Kurieshi
-Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri (short stories; won Pulitzer Prize)
-A Fine Balance and Swimming Lessons (short stories) by Rohinton Mistry
-Swami and Friends (short stories)by R.K. Narayan
-Anil's Ghost by Michael Ondaatje
-The God of Small Things (Booker prize winner) by Arundhati Roy
-Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie
-A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth
-Life Isn't All Ha Ha Hee Hee by Meera Syal
-The Guru of Love and Arresting God in Kathmandu (short tories) by Samrat Upadhyay

Liz B said...

You should be shocked; can you believe I haven't even read Rushdie?

My library system has most of these titles so I just placed a few holds.

Anonymous said...

Fabulous. Full report as you work through these titles.

Anonymous said...

I read The Interpreter of Maladies this year and loved it. Pooja, do you have Rushdie's book of lit crit? I really enjoyed that one, and wish I owned it. I've read that and some of his stories but not any of his novels. Must change that.

Anonymous said...

Susan, you *must* read Haroun and the Sea of Stories, a fantasy novel he wrote for his son. He says of that book, "It struck me while I was writing the book that a lot of the children's books I most admire, the great classics of children's literature, were written for one child. Winnie-the-Pooh was written for Christopher Robin Milne. Alice in Wonderland was written for Alice Liddell. And so on. You can identify, in many of those great classics, a particular child that was to be pleased. Somehow, if you could please that one child, you'd end up pleasing children."

Next, you should tackle Midnight's Children, his most famous work. It's dense, and I do think you will get a lot out of it if you read a good overview of modern (20th century) South Asian history first. I first read Midnight's Children when I was in high-school and enjoyed. When I re-read it a few years ago, I was blown away. Brilliant novel.

I do think the reader who will get the *most* out of Rushdie's above-mentioned books will have an understanding of South Asian languages including Hindi/Urdu and South Asian literary conventions. This is NOT to say that if you don't have this knowledge, you won't enjoy his work. You will. His word play and punnery (is that a word?) will entertain and his sense of story will mesmerize.

Also recommended: Shame and The Moor's Last Sigh.

To be avoided: Fury and The Ground Beneath Her Feet

I have still to get through Satanic Verses.