Fragments of RiversongWhen I read the stories in Fragments of Riversong, a collection of 12 short stories by Bangladeshi author Farah Ghuznavi, I was very happy to see lively descriptions of old properties and sprawling houses. Having grown up in two sprawling bungalows in my hometown, Ghatsila, in the state of Jharkhand in India, a description—or even a mere mention—of old bungalows fills me with a certain thrill. I begin to connect with the setting and I have this feeling that the author is speaking/writing of something that I have known and experienced. Reading Fragments of Riversong was a bonus, for there were not only old properties and sprawling bungalows, but also a lot of village life in its stories. A part of my family still lives in our ancestral village that I visit regularly, and, at present, I am working in a rural setting. The stories in Fragments of Riversong were more familiar than I had expected them to be. Also, another remarkable thing I noticed in these stories were children. There are children—young girls, young boys—in nearly all the stories. Most stories are either about children or have—despite the third person narrative—a child guiding the reader through the narrative.

In “Escaping the Mirror”, her parents’ big house becomes a sort of a jail for seven-year-old Dia as she tries to escape the advances made by their driver, Minhas. The feeling of frustration of the little child upon realising that her parents trust that abusive man more than they trust their own daughter has been brought out in harrowing detail.

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by Amaruvi Devanathan

LossandLawsThe 17 stories that the book has demonstrate that Jayanthi Sankar is easily one of the best writers of Singapore.

The book ‘Loss and Laws’ (Kitaab, 2015) is an English translation of bilingual writer Jayanthi Sankar’s Tamil short stories.  I had the opportunity to participate in its launch in Singapore Writer’s Festival this year.

‘Loss and Laws’ – The law, however democratically it would have been framed, if it has lost its human touch and therefore does not value human dignity and has to be imposed just because it is in the statute book, is nothing  short of draconian diktat. The story flows so mellifluously that we get to travel along with the protagonist and begin to feel the pressures of a domestic help’s day. The way the story ends reflects the stark reality and comes as a rude jolt, making you get up from your easy chair and look angrily at the society, truth, laws and the sense of utter helplessness against the three forces.

‘The Smuggler’ is a subtle depiction of human helplessness and the acknowledgement of the same. In a fast paced Singapore when the day ends even before it begins and where people forget to breathe in the rush to carry on with their daily business of life in the MRT, the interaction of a tattered Chinese gentleman with the passengers of the train is not given the seriousness it deserves. When the conversation that the gentlemen has with each passenger is not known to us, there is one soul who understands that. The twist is, the protagonist doesn’t even talk to that one person who finally understands the situation and reacts suitably. The question  ‘what did the Chinese gentlemen speak?’ is left to the reader, in a classic short story style. This story ensures that the reader participates in the evolution of the story and makes the reader an author as well. A story is defined by what is left unsaid. This is one such, a classic, I would say.

By Elen Turner

city-of-spies15jan15_03-1City of Spies: A Novel, by Sorayya Khan. New Delhi: Aleph Book Company, 2015.

I have been a fan of Pakistani-American Sorayya Khan’s fiction since I read her first novel, Noor (2006), which is about the 1971 Bangladesh War of Independence. Her second novel, Five Queens Road (2009) shifted the action to Lahore, while her latest ‘novel’, City of Spies, is set in Islamabad.

I write ‘novel’ because I was not convinced by the term. While Pakistani women’s writing has a small but strong tradition of the fictionalised memoir—Bapsi Sidhwa’s Cracking India, Sara Suleri’s Meatless Days—Sorayya Khan’s City of Spies does not claim to be a memoir or based on the author’s experiences, and this, I believe, is its biggest flaw. The book is told from the point of view of Aliya, a smart, sensitive and headstrong young girl trying to negotiate the complexities not only of growing up in a politically difficult and religiously repressive place, but also with having a foreign, white mother. Aliya feels Pakistani, but knows she is different. She attends the local American school, alongside the children of diplomats and spies (which were often one and the same), but recognises that she is only there by the grace of her scholarship and well-connected parents.

by Vasika Udurawane

Flash Fiction International:
Very Short Stories from Around the World 

Flash Fiction International pbk mech.inddJames Thomas (Editor)Robert Shapard (Editor)Christopher Merrill (Editor)

W W Norton & Company (Paperback)

April 2015 (288 pp)

The joy of reading an anthology is that one never knows what to expect. I certainly did not know what to expect when I received a copy of Flash Fiction International, but I ended up enjoying every minute of it.

The book has stories by eighty-six great writers from around the world, one story per writer. I had no clue what flash fiction was at first. However when I read through this wonderful selection of stories and authors I began to appreciate the beauty of the short story in what I take to be its purest and most stripped-to-basics form. Plenty of praise goes out to the editing team for making this selection.

For a start, the title of the book is strong and direct, as are the individual story captions.

by Anu Kumar

Admittedly, The Patna Manual of Style is hard to describe, even harder to like. But it is easy to love–travel through its pages and you will see Delhi as it was a decade ago, with its mentions of what the North Campus looked like and perhaps still does, how the winter sunlight slinks gently into an apartment, how you can catch a glimpse of the Qutb Minar from a South Delhi barsati, the traffic around Sarai Kale Khan, the atmosphere around Connaught Circus, and you will automatically fall in step with Hriday Thakur, the aspiring writer from Patna who has loved and not lost, and somehow made a life for himself in Delhi, says Anu Kumar

PatnaThough Siddharth Chowdhury’s The Patna Manual of Style (Aleph Book Company, 2015) includes the word “stories” in its title, it has to be read like a novel, with the stories following one after another. And while these stories are not arranged chronologically, and even the narrative voices vary, it is only when one reads the final story that there is some sense of completion–almost. A novel, after all, should never be complete; its incompleteness must linger with the reader.

Hriday Thakur appears in several of these stories. Read in some order, he has just lost his job, and some time before this he has lost the girl he loved. He even loses his mentor but at the end he does find happiness of a sort, with a job and married to a woman he loves. In Chowdhury’s novel, Day Scholar, which preceded this, Hriday is the wide-eyed and impressionable young university student from Patna, in-part bewildered and blissful–whether it is because of the reckless violence his landlord Zoravar Singh Shokeen is capable of, or due to Hriday’s own obsession with a young girl. But in these stories–though there is a certain writerly detachment about him, given his own ambitions to be a writer–he is more confident, worldly-wise and aware of his own attractiveness to women.

Ooi Kok Hin in The Malaysian Insider

Among the Malays, one would have thought that they are the ones who will most appreciate their literary tradition. But beneath the facade of ethnic pride and supremacist rhetoric, the Malays have mostly forgotten the history of their literature, too.

Ismail Hussein, writing in 1966, has this to say: The present interest of the Malay people towards their own traditional literature has been very mixed. On the one side there is the group of ardent nationalists who are eagerly grabbing anything that come in their way and trying to reconstruct it into a glorious cultural past at the expense of precision and historical accuracy. A member of this group will tell us of the rich literary heritage of the Malay people, but the probability is that he himself has not read four texts of this heritage and can hardly name twenty titles of that rich literature. On the other side, there is the group of young forward-looking people who are only interested in the present and the future, who are anxiously trying to forget the past, because the past has brought them nothing but embarrassment.” (Excerpt from  Ismail Hussein’s “The Study of Traditional Malay Literature”).

By Elen Turner

Necropolis by Avtar Singh, New Delhi: Harper Collins, 2014. 268 pages.

necropolisAvtar Singh’s Necropolis is very different from a lot of English-language fiction currently emerging from India, a major strength of the novel. Part detective fiction, part literary, and incorporating much history and vampire imagery, Necropolis straddles various literary worlds.

Taking it as a mystery/crime thriller, it would be best not to give away too much of the plot in this review, as it is this that pulls the reader along. It opens with a murder—one in a string of murders—suspected to have been carried out by Delhi’s youth gangs. DCP Dayal and officers Kapoor and Smita Dhingra are on the case, and the novel follows their search for the killers. Further crimes occur, parallel or connected to the opening murder, including the killing of an African immigrant, the rape of a woman from the north-east of India and the kidnapping of a young boy from a wealthy family.

One of Singapore’s well-known publishers Epigram Books has announced the launch of a new literary prize, the Epigram Books Fiction Prize.

The annual prize of S$20,000 is the richest literary award in Singapore, the publisher claimed in a press statement.

According to the publisher, the prize is to be awarded to a Singaporean, Singaporean permanent resident or Singapore-born author for the best manuscript of a full-length, original and unpublished novel written in the English language. The first winner will be announced at this year’s Singapore Writers Festival in November 2015 and have his/her novel published by Epigram Books.

An English anthology of works by Taiwanese and Malaysian writers was launched in late January this year to introduce more literary works from the two countries to English-speaking readers.

The “Anthology of Short Stories Malaysia-Taiwan” features 12 short stories by six Taiwanese and six Malaysian writers, Sarah Hsiang (項人慧), secretary and assistant editor at the Taipei Chinese Center International P.E.N., said Tuesday.