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.
The opening of Jón Gnarr’s novel/memoir The Indian is a playful bit of extravagant ego, telling the traditional story of creation, where the “Let there be light!” moment is also the moment of his birth on January 2nd, 1967. Then. . .
Mahasweta Devi is not only one of the most prolific Bengali authors, but she’s also an important activist. In fact, for Devi, the two seem to go together. As you can probably tell from the titles, she writes about women. . .
The prolific Spanish author Benito Pérez Galdós wrote his short novel, Tristana, during the closing years of the nineteenth century, a time when very few options were available to women of limited financial means who did not want a husband.. . .
Pedro Zarraluki’s The History of Silence (trans. Nick Caistor and Lorenza García) begins with the narrator and his wife, Irene, setting out to write a book about silence, itself called The History of Silence: “This is the story of how. . .
There are plenty of reasons you can fail to find the rhythm of a book. Sometimes it’s a matter of discarding initial assumptions or impressions, sometimes of resetting oneself. Zigmunds Skujiņš’s Flesh-Coloured Dominoes was a defining experience in the necessity. . .
In a culture that privileges prose, reviewing poetry is fairly pointless. And I’ve long since stopped caring about what the world reads and dropped the crusade to get Americans to read more poems. Part of the fault, as I’ve suggested. . .
I would like to pose the argument that it is rare for one to ever come across a truly passive protagonist in a novel. The protagonist (perhaps) of Three Light-Years, Claudio Viberti, is just that—a shy internist who lives in. . .
The last five days of the eleventh-century Icelandic politician, writer of sagas, and famous murder victim Snorri Sturleleson (the Norwegian spelling, Snorre, is preserved in the book) make up Thorvald Steen’s most recently translated historical fiction, The Little Horse. Murdered. . .
We all know Paris, or at least we think we know it. The Eiffel Tower. The Latin Quarter. The Champs-Élysées. The touristy stuff. In Dominique Fabre’s novel, Guys Like Me, we’re shown a different side of Paris: a gray, decaying. . .
One hundred pages into Birth of a Bridge, the prize-winning novel from French writer Maylis de Kerangal, the narrator describes how starting in November, birds come to nest in the wetlands of the fictional city of Coca, California, for three. . .