From an Iowa Fiction Award winner and East Indian now resident in the US, 12 finely crafted stories that evoke the tug of tradition all immigrants feel, as well as life in contemporary India.
As with so many debut collections, the stories here are written impeccably, but the painstaking care put into them leaches out that insistent vitality that distinguishes the really remarkable. Many are about Indians who are Parsis, a people who fled Iran centuries ago and in dwindling numbers still practice their Zoroastrian faith with its ritual use of fire. In the first piece, “Ancient Fire,” a young Parsi boy recalls how he set a fire that enabled him to punish the boys who had been bullying him. Another with a Parsi theme is “Holy Cow,” about a Parsi now living in Detroit who hosts a prayer service at her home. It threatens to be a disaster until a newly arrived young man relieves the tension. In the title story, a visiting college badminton team staying in an Indian town learn that their seemingly benign hosts are sadistic thugs who set buses on fire. In “Falling,” also set in India, a young man is haunted by the memory of the time he and two fellow students saw a servant fall and took her to a hospital—then learned that she’d subsequently gotten fired and become a prostitute. A US-set story takes up the ambivalence to her husband’s religion that an American woman, married to an Indian, feels after a trip to India with their daughter (“Who’s Your Authority?”); while another takes up the division between the old oppressions and the new freedoms that a graduate student from India feels when he wants to end an affair with a young woman and fellow student whom he knew back in India (“Stray”).
Quiet, evocative tales illuminating India and the Indian experience in America.