Category > Short stories

Resident Aliens

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Resident AliensIn Beth Porter’s Resident Aliens, we get a novella, four poems and three short stories all focusing on the darker sides of post-war/post-depression era of New York through characters whose lives reflect it’s less glamorous neighborhoods.

Resident Aliens by Beth Porter is actually a collection of writings. On the menu is a novella, four poems and three short stories, all focusing on New York in the 60s. Before I discuss the various elements of this book, there is a small warning – nothing included here is for the faint of heart. These are gritty tales, darkly atmospheric with glimpses into the city’s stark realities.


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A Lovesong for India

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Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, A Lovesong for India, book reviewThis article is part of our Holiday Reads 2013 series.

I love books about India and whenever I go there on holiday, I take a list of all the books I’ve heard about during the year that I might be able to find more easily in India. Ruth Prawer Jhabvala’s A Lovesong for India was one of my purchases in 2011. Whilst I generally prefer Indian writers, I also enjoy Ruth Prawer Jhabvala’s semi-outsider view of Indian life. Although she was born German to Polish parents, she moved to England and then married an Indian – architect CSH Jhabvala – and together they spent many years living in India. She now splits her days between New York, London and Delhi and A Lovesong for India reflects that complexity in her own life.

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New Market Tales

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New Market Tales, Jayant Kripalani, book reviewOld fashioned stories with a beginning, middle and end come at a premium these days. Most are dark twisted flights of language that demand applause for brilliance. And then comes Jayant Kriplani’s New Market Tales which is a nostalgic trip to a time and place that the actor-author was once familiar with in the 1960’s and 70’s. Most of the stories are linked to Lindsay Street and New Market and the ‘marketayr bachhas’, or children of the shopkeepers – some of whom were obviously real life people and those familiar with the Market will be able to guess at their identities. There is the cricket team which has the boys out at nets early in the morning before school, including the baker’s son who doesn’t want to be a baker, and the team captain Raju who has insights into the lives of nightclub owners.

The stories are told by different someones who come into contact with market people over chai and singaras early in the morning and exchange gossip or who know the shopowners and their families.


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A Change in the Weather

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 A Change in the Weather, Shaheen Ashraf-Ahmed, book review It’s often said that in the moments before you die your life passes in front of your eyes. I’m sceptical about how true that is since anyone who’s had it happen to them is unlikely to be able to report back after the event. By contrast, I can believe that in their final days, the sick and dying probably do look back on their lives and think about the people they loved, the chances they missed and the things that might have been different if they’d come to life’s junctions and taken a different direction. This is the theme of Shaheen Ashraf-Ahmed’s short story A Change in the Weather.

An old man lies in his bedroom in India, gathering the people and things he loves around him.


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Angels Beneath the Surface: A Selection of Contemporary Slovene Fiction

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Angels Beneath the Surface: A Selection of Contemporary Slovene Fiction edited by  Mitja ?ander and Tom Priestly, book reviewThe Slovenes are very literary people. Their national heroes are men of letters, among them Primož Trubar, the father of the Slovene language and writer of the first book in Slovene; Janez Vajkard Valvasor, a noted polymath and writer of the Glory of the Duchy of Carniola, a mammoth encyclopaedia of the natural history of what is now Slovenia; and France Prešeren, widely regarded as Slovenia’s greatest poet and writer of the words of the Slovene national anthem. When a Slovenian asks your name, he literally asks how you ‘write yourself’; what could be more literary?

Slovenia has a population of just two million but publishes more books per capita than the United States; with more than four thousand books published each year, Slovenia is near the top of the international leader-board. However, a book that sells about six hundred copies in Slovenia is regarded as a best seller’; this begs the question, can an author writing in Slovene earn enough to have a comfortable existence?

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Dark Lies the Island

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Dark Lies the Island, Kevin Barry, book reviewShort stories have a strong place in Irish writing, and many Irish authors of literary fiction have turned their hand to the genre. Kevin Barry is a very fine addition to the list. Dark Lies the Island is his second volume in this format and maintains a superb standard throughout, ranging from the touching, romantic and poignant through the humourous to the threatening. There are hints of an older more traditional Ireland, but the overall tone is very much one of an Ireland overtaken by new values, promulgated by a range of dystopian subcultures. And even where rural Ireland is portrayed, it is a sinister, off-kilter rural Ireland rather than the bucolic ideal of the past.


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Romp through Suburbia

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Tamasha In Bandargaon by  Navneet Jagannathan, book reviewThe back cover sets the trend telling you that you can expect something of RK Narayan’s Malgudi Days. That is about right – Jagannathan sets his action in the fictional Mumbai suburb of Bandargaon and the name tells you that it will be a romp with all kinds of ‘bandars’ involved. This is heightened by the Mario Miranda style cover illustration.

The suburb, like all Mumbai suburbs is centred around certain vital elements, Sunrise Apartments, the housing complex, the slum from where the domestic help for the complex comes from, vice in the shape of a gambling den and the tea stall where all the local gossip is available. Like Narayan, Jagannathan weaves together a series of short stories, thirteen of them, linked by common characters and setting.


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Opening the Great Indian Epic

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The Forest of Stories: Book 1 - Ashok Banker, book reviewFor someone with cross cultural roots – his mother is Sri Lankan-British and a Christian and his father a Gujarati Hindu – Ashok Banker has rediscovered himself as an explorer of the fantasy world of Indian mythology. He began as one of India’s first writers of thrillers in English, then moved on to science fiction and mythology, crossing new milestones with every book. Banker says that his interest in the epics was revived by the fact that while the world of literature and films and television and music was overflowing of references to Greek mythology and history, Roman Gods, western gods, Christian theology and names, Jewish names, there were very few references to Hindu gods or myths. Or if there were, they were garbled. He therefore decided to delve into Hindu mythology and found it all the more interesting because unlike Christianity, Hinduism did not exist as a single defined religion.


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Southern Blood and Gore

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Tamil Pulp Fiction (Volume II) by  Pritham K. Chakravarthy , Rakesh Khanna   This is a follow-up to the immensely popular first collection of South Indian, specifically Tamil pulp fiction, released in 2008. It features stories by names like Indra Soundar Rajan, Medhavi, Jeyaraj, Pushpa Thangadorai, Rajesh Kumar, Indumathi, M.K.Narayanan, and Resakee. The contents are very unashamedly pulp, gore, blood, violence with overtones of sex. All this is signaled by the kitschy cover of a pretty girl sipping from a skull with blood droplets trickling into her cleavage. In this case the book can certainly be judged by its cover.

The blurb advertises ‘7 THRILLING tales… from 7 Indian and Singaporean masters of ACTION, SUSPENSE, and HORROR!’ and the reader gets the full dose. There is a tale of a curse that hunts down the members of a family of debauched maharajahs who can only be saved by purity.


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Spicy Fantasies

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Blue The Tranquebar Book of Erotic Stories from Sri Lanka, TranquebarA humid climate redolent of spices, sweat on dark skins – Sri Lanka conjures up many images which lend themselves well to erotica. And of course, erotic writing is far older than many forms and while being general attempts to address itself to the particular covering all kinds of imagined encounters – there is a wealth of erotica, both pornographic and otherwise in the Sinhala language ranging from the historic to the contemporary. What separates it from pornography is that it hints indirectly and so attempts a sensuous stirring of the senses through a kind of half revealing.

Ameena Hussein has put together this collection of short stories, the first of their kind from Sri Lanka, in an attempt she says in her introduction, to unveil the ‘spicy fantasies’ of the land to which she belongs and bring fresh voices to the attention of the English reading public


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Aids Sutra

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Aids Sutra: Untold Stories from India,  Prashant PanjiarI suspect that many people think that a ‘sutra’ is a smutty book due to the only one they’ve ever heard of being the ancient guide to sex known as the Kama Sutra. That’s not the case. Sutra is a Sanskrit word which means a wise saying or aphorism or a collection of such things. In the case of the two sutras I’ve read – Gita Mehta’s River Sutra and the book I’m reviewing here, AIDS Sutra – the term is used more broadly to mean a collection of short essays or stories. The closest suggestion I could give for the word would be ‘Anthology’.

AIDS Sutra was published in 2008 and was supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and they open the book with an introduction and a ‘thank you’ to the writers whose work follows. In the introductory chapter, written by Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen, we learn that nobody’s too sure exactly how many cases of AIDS and HIV there are in India but best estimates put the figure at something like 3 million – just imagine 3 million people living under the shadow of a disease which could be treated and controlled if they lived in a country with greater affluence and access to Anti-Retroviral drugs and without the societal constraints that prevent many sufferers from seeking treatment.


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The Yellow Wallpaper

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The Yellow Wallpaper (Virago modern classics), Charlotte Perkins Gilman, book reviewHave you ever noticed that some of the shortest books are also the saddest? It’s almost as if we need multiple words to express joy and barely a few to plunge the depths of human misery. Such is the case in Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s tiny book The Yellow Wallpaper which was published in 1892. It’s also hard to imagine that in modern times anyone would be able to get a story of just 28 pages published, unless it were one of the shorter contributions to a book of short stories. The Yellow Wallpaper despite its brevity is hailed as a ‘Literary Masterpiece’ – at least that’s what it says on the cover of my Virago Modern Classics edition in its 2002 reprint.

The Yellow Wallpaper took me a very short time to read – half a bath to be precise. The other half polished off the ‘Afterword’, an essay about the book which is longer than the tale itself.


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