It’s an anthology that sparkles with brilliance, says reviewer Mythily Ramachandran 

By Mythily Ramachandran                               

BreastsWho can understand a woman better than another woman?

RK Biswas’s Breasts and Other Afflictions of Women, a collection of short stories is ample testimony to this. Comprising of 32 stories that have been published individually in India and globally, the book dwells on women from different walks of life, cuts across ages and brings out the resilience which women are known for.

This mixed bag of stories opens with a sensitive story told most beautifully in “Breasts”. A simple phone call in the dead of the night can be ominous and when Ila learns that it is a perverted prankster at the other end of the line, she disconnects the line with just a word, ‘Idiot’. As the story progresses, Biswas brilliantly changes Ila’s mood into a tender moment. This poignant story is my favourite.

Stolen by Amrita Narayanan

ClutchParvathi, squat, generous-hipped, sweaty, is scraping seeds from the flesh of a papaya. She is working slowly, attentively, her brow furrowed in concentration, as she strokes and probes with her curled brown fingers, her hands tracing slow ellipses to pull the glittering seeds from their sticky embrace with the sometimes red, sometimes orange flesh. At its wet centre, the fruit is exactly the colour of her santra-red sari and blouse.

Sitting across from her, Meenakshi, equally full of figure, still dusted with talcum powder and carrying the Mysore-sandal scent of her morning bath, is speaking. She is talking about papayas: how this year’s bumper crop has dropped the prices and rendered accessible to everyone the exotic fruit that is usually the preserve of the wealthy; how, if plucked early, the hard, sour fruit makes for good pickling. It is mostly a monologue.

Parvathi keeps working as she listens, but doesn’t say much; all through her chatter Meenakshi’s eyes are riveted on her companion. Though she is silent, Parvathi speaks with her body. Her thighs flex and twitch under the tightly wound cotton sari; a roll of flesh slick with sweat trembles just below the edge of her blouse. And now her feet flatten and dig into the tiled kitchen floor as she begins to juice the pile of lemon-halves she has sliced earlier. She twists and grinds the hard yellow rinds on the mound of the ancient glass juicer, until the pulp yields its tart juice into the waiting saucer. As she works, her breasts move within the enclave of her blouse, the cotton alternately caressing and chafing her nipples.

Bangalore

A nondescript morning meanders through a busy road smack in the middle of a traffic snarl. Sun rays fall like rain on a young man walking without energy, his shoulders sloping downhill, their mantle of dejection pressing against his collarbones.

The young man has a dark blue striped shirt on, rolled up at the sleeves. His black jeans hang loosely from his hips. His shoes which were shiny in the morning are now covered with a film of sparrow coloured dust. He could be anywhere between twenty one and twenty nine. He could be an itinerant salesman; a medical representative, a computer mechanic, an-out-of-work engineer or an MBA  on a sabbatical. The air of hopelessness around his thin body, in the forward tilt of his forehead that speaks of the futility of finding anything remotely good and positive in the world, could belong to anyone.

Primal Woman, a collection of translated short stories by the late Sunil Gangopadhyay reveals his preoccupation with man’s inhumanity: Open

Sunil Gangopadhyay is a literary institution. An atheist, a radical, co-opted by the establishment. Happily co-opted, it must be said, and by the end a pillar of that establishment—Poet Sunil, as Ginsberg called him in September on Jessore Road, turned president of the Sahitya Akademi. This is literary life (or perhaps just life): at one time, you’re the firebrand, dismissing Tagore as soft and sentimental, founding experimental literary journals, inveighing against the status quo; and then, before you know it, you’re ‘the man’, an abuser of power, rapacious, venal; a toad squatting balefully atop ‘Literature’.

SuchenOne of the best literary novels of this year, The River’s Song, by award-winning novelist Suchen Christine Lim (who is also one of Kitaab’s Advisory Board members) is in the running for this year’s Popular Bookstore’s Readers Choice Awards.

Cheryl TanThe other important work of fiction that is also vying for the same award is Singapore Noir, a collection of stories edited by Cheryl Tan (read the Kitaab interview with Tan).

Popular is Singapore’s largest bookstore chain, the Barnes & Noble of Singapore, if you will.

Here is the full list of nominated titles (adult category):

wenapoonAs a child living in a tiny apartment in Singapore, Wena Poon listened to radio plays broadcast in a variety of languages and watched TV — everything from Chinese sword-fighting operas to popular American series such as “M*A*S*H.” “There was nowhere to go outside,” Poon says, “so I just sat around. It was an audio-visual childhood.”

Now a writer and Harvard-educated lawyer, Poon lives in Austin, Texas, with her Australian-American husband. Though the stories in her first collection, “Lions in Winter,” took place mostly in her native country, her novel “Alex y Robert,” about a young American woman who wants to be a bullfighter, was set in Spain. The book was published to acclaim in Britain, where it was broadcast on BBC Radio 4. A short story she wrote based on this novel was later nominated for France’s Prix Hemingway.

As the inimitable Khalil Gibran has stated, ‘Ever has it been that love knows not its own depth until the hour of separation.’ Leela Devi Paniker’s stories have that depth and pathos, the few reluctant albeit genuine smiles, the tears of grief and longing and eventually eternal hope, sprouting from the womb of the earth, whilst inducing the character(s) to move on and rediscover life, says Monica Arora in this review

Bathing-elephantsOnce in a while, there comes along such a deep-rooted and evocative piece of prose that leaves readers spellbound and mesmerized for days after putting the book away.  Leela Devi Panikar’s ‘Bathing Elephants’ has this lilting, haunting, melancholic quality that touches the deepest cockles of the heart and wrings one, inside out!

Following her debut collection of short stories entitled ‘Floating Petals’, all six tales in ‘Bathing Elephants’ are characterized by simplicity of expression and brevity. The author brilliantly conveys so much pathos and emotion in very few words and uses an easy narrative tenor throughout the manuscript.

Calling for submissions for the 2015 Sunday Times EFG Short Story Award. The prize is £30,000 — The Award is open to writers of any nationality

One of the world’s most prestigious literary prizes is open for submissions again, with the call going out for entries to the 2015 Sunday Times EFG Short Story Award.

Launched in 2009, the award — at £30,000 the richest in the world for a single short story — has in its first five years established itself as one of the key events in the literary calendar. Winners of the ­international competition, which is open to stories of up to 6,000 words written in English, have come from all over the world, and have included the Pulitzer prize-winning American writer Junot Diaz, CK Stead from New Zealand and Kevin Barry from Ireland. Last year’s recipient of the award, at a gala dinner in London’s Stationers’ Hall, was the Pulitzer winner Adam Johnson, who carried off the 2014 trophy for his haunting story Nirvana.

Review of Inside and Other Short Fiction by various, edited by Cathy Lyne

The tagline on the cover of this provocative anthology pretty much sums it up in a nutshell: “Japanese women by Japanese women.” Featuring eight short stories and a foreword by novelist Ruth Ozeki, “Inside and Other Short Fiction” is a gritty introduction to contemporary writers who explore the issue of female identity.