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 biggest issues with books like The Subsidiary often have to do with their underpinnings—when we learn that Georges Perec wrote La Disparition without once using the letter E, we are impressed. Imagine such a task! It takes a high. . .
Following The Infatuations, Javier Marías’s latest novel seems, like those that have preceded it, an experiment to test fiction’s capacity to mesmerize with sombre-sexy atmospheres and ruminative elongated sentences stretched across windowless walls of paragraphs. Thus Bad Begins offers his. . .
Death by Water, Kenzaburo Oe’s latest novel to be translated into English, practically begs you to read it as autobiography. Like The Changeling, as well as many other works not yet released in English, Death by Water is narrated in. . .
Jocelyne Saucier’s Twenty-One Cardinals is about the type of unique, indestructible, and often tragic loyalty only found in families. For a brief but stunningly mesmerizing 169 pages, Twenty-One Cardinals invited me in to the haunting and intimate world of the. . .
We know so very little; so little that what we think to be knowledge is hardly worth reckoning with at all; instead we ought to settle for being pleasantly surprised if, on the edge of things, against all expectations, our. . .
Many of Virginie Despentes’s books revolve around the same central idea: “To be born a woman [is] the worst fate in practically every society.” But this message is nearly always packaged in easy-to-read books that fill you with the pleasure. . .
Ilja Leonard Pfeijffer’s La Superba is appropriately titled after the Italian city of Genoa, where, after escaping the pressures of fame in his own country, the semi-autobiographical narrator finds himself cataloguing the experiences of its mesmerizing inhabitants with the intention. . .
It took reading 44 pages of Intervenir/Intervene before I began to get a sense of what Dolores Dorantes and Rodrigo Flores Sánchez were up to. Recurring throughout these 44 pages—throughout the entire book—are shovels, shovel smacks to the face, lobelias—aha!. . .
As presaged by its title, contradiction is the theme of Peter Stamm’s novel, All Days Are Night. Gillian, a well-known television personality, remains unknowable to herself. And Hubert, a frustrated artist and Gillian’s lover, creates art through the process of. . .
It’s a rare and wonderful book that begins and ends with violence and humor. At the start of Etgar Keret’s The Seven Good Years, Keret is in a hospital waiting for the birth of his first child while nurses, in. . .