The Lotus Eaters: Short Stories from Contemporary South Asia
Edited by Trevor Carolan
Foreword by Urvashi Butalia
To escape from poverty a woman sells of her body in order to get by.
You’ve heard this story before, haven’t you? Actually, you haven’t.
Niaz Zaman of Bangladesh’s story “The Daily Woman” is part of one of the new Asian anthologies out by Cheng and Tsui Company and edited, like Another Kind of Paradise, by Trevor Carolan. This anthology primarily features short stories from the countries of India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and Pakistan, but also Bhutan, Nepal, and the Maldives.
Playing on the region’s rich literary culture and history, old forms take new life. In Zaman’s story a house worker, a daily woman, reflects back on a choice she made before she was able to find her job. Her husband was sick and the babies came early. What is the price of surviving in Bangladesh? “How hungry she had been, and the two babies crying together were enough to make her go mad.”
And then the Amrikans came, pinkish-white people who were willing to solve her problem and take it away, a man and a woman. “White hair and wrinkles near her eyes. And thin. No breasts. No behind. Flat as a dried fish.” The narrator is not impressed, but it would be easier if there were less mouths to feed. So she made the deal and the Amrikans drove away.
“She sighed and drank the last of her tea. So that was what a Bangladeshi girl child was worth. Two brass bangles. She picked up the boy. Would he have been worth four brass bangles?”
Usha Yadav, an Indian writer, also takes a new twist on an old problem. In “Libations,” when the widow Saptadal dies during the festival of Holi, her fellow widows travel from door to door to seek men willing to arrange the burial rites for her funeral. When no one can be found three young women, going outside tradition, help the widows perform the burial themselves.
In a subtle (in terms of the story) and less than subtle (in verbatim) commentary on social customs and class divisions, Yadav writes “Not an ordinary funeral procession, this was also at once a protest march by women against a selfish and insensitive patriarchy which shadowed the lives of women from the beginning to the end: destroying the female embryo after the ultrasound report and forbidding women to perform the last rites of the dead. At least that is how it seemed to this small group.”
The Lotus Singers is an interesting and powerful collection and for those looking for a varied choice of reading and contemporary topics, the anthology has a lot to offer. While on the whole the stories are not as uplifting and positive as Carolan’s other anthology Another Kind of Paradise, their gritty darkness and at times black introspection give a telling look into South Asian life.
Imagine the most baroque excesses of Goethe, Shakespeare, and Poe, blended together and poured into a single book: That is The Nightwatches of Bonaventura. Ophelia and Hamlet fall in love in a madhouse, suicidal young men deliver mournful and heartfelt. . .
In 1899, Maurice Ravel wrote “Pavane pour une infante défunte” (“Pavane for a Dead Princess”) for solo piano (a decade later, he published an orchestral version). The piece wasn’t written for a particular person; Ravel simply wanted to compose a. . .
Fiston Mwanza Mujila is an award-winning author, born in the Democratic Republic of Congo, who now, at 33, lives in Austria. From what I could find, much of his work is influenced by the Congo’s battle for independence and its. . .
Twenty-One Days of a Neurasthenic is not a novel in the traditional sense. Rather, it is a collection of vignettes recorded by journalist Georges Vasseur in his diary during a month spent in the Pyrenées Mountains to treat his nervous. . .
Founded in 1960 by such creative pioneers as George Perec, Raymond Queneau and Italo Calvino, the Oulipo, shorthand for Ouvroir de littérature potentielle, came about in when a group of writers and mathematicians sought constraints to find new structures and. . .
There’s little to say about a series of prose poems that willfully refuse to identify pronoun antecedents. Or perhaps there are a million things. The poems in Morse, My Deaf Friend— the chapbook by Miloš Djurdjević published by Ugly Duckling. . .
The Crimson Thread of Abandon is the first collection of short fiction available in English by the prolific Japanese writer and all-around avant-garde trickster Terayama Shūji, who died in 1983 at the age of 47. This collection would be important. . .
Last year, NYRB Classics introduced English-language readers to Catalan writer Josep Pla with Peter Bush’s translation of The Gray Notebook. In that book, Pla wrote about life in Spain during an influenza outbreak soon after World War I, when. . .
“Your bile is stagnant, you see sorrow in everything, you are drenched in melancholy,” my friend the doctor said.
bq. “Isn’t melancholy something from previous centuries? Isn’t some vaccine against it yet, hasn’t medicine taken care of it yet?” I. . .
What to make of Vano and Niko, the English translation of Erlom Akhvlediani’s work of the same name, as well as the two other short books that comprise a sort of trilogy? Quick searches will inform the curious reader that. . .