A somewhat rough but insightful look at how people endure.

Mohammed A Mechanic and Mary A Maid

These eight short stories explore issues of sex, guilt, family expectations and more in modern India.

Gautam (Andy Leelu, 2012) shows his characters getting caught up in various kinds of traps—involving class and education differences, sex, guilt and societal expectations—and he details how they respond, which is usually with stoic acceptance. In the title story, for example, Mohammed at first loathes Mary because she treats him as less than equal, though both are servants. When their employers, the Negis, go on vacation, Mohammed is instructed to assist Mary in their absence. He correctly suspects her of being Mr. Negi’s mistress and feels unsettled by her sexuality. She gives him old clothes belonging to Mr. Negi; when Mrs. Negi remarks that Mohammed looks “dashing” upon her return, Mr. Negi is displeased—and Mrs. Negi is even more so when she discovers Mary’s affair with her husband. Both employees are fired. Somehow, they put aside their differences: “Mary brought Mohammed lunch one day and never stopped.” Elsewhere, in “Easy Savitri,” the titular womanturns to prostitution to survive after her abusive husband’s early death. The narrator, a young man with good looks and intelligence, takes advantage of her daughter Pankhuri’s adoration of him; to disguise the pregnancy, Savitri marries her daughter off to a widower. The narrator knows he’s done wrong, yet Savitri blesses him as he’s leaving: “It was by far the most difficult moment of my life. But Savitri was easy. Easy as ever.” Sometimes, Gautam’s usage and phrasing can be peculiar, clumsy or opaque: “A few kicks here and there are acceptable…so far the devil provides the essentials to remain on its side”; “Cohabitation of two immiscible feelings in a pristine heart can put the life on a cliff-hanger”; “Mohammed felt sized.” However, Gautam can achieve some evocative images, as when Savitri imagines the future as yards of plain uncut cloth, the present as a sewing machine, and the past like “wash and wear [that] has the smell of everything familiar.”

A somewhat rough but insightful look at how people endure.

Pub Date: April 16, 2014

ISBN: 978-1482821697

Page Count: 142

Publisher: PartridgeIndia

Review Posted Online: June 11, 2014

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It's being called a novel, but it is more a hybrid: short-stories/essays/confessions about the Vietnam War—the subject that O'Brien reasonably comes back to with every book. Some of these stories/memoirs are very good in their starkness and factualness: the title piece, about what a foot soldier actually has on him (weights included) at any given time, lends a palpability that makes the emotional freight (fear, horror, guilt) correspond superbly. Maybe the most moving piece here is "On The Rainy River," about a draftee's ambivalence about going, and how he decided to go: "I would go to war—I would kill and maybe die—because I was embarrassed not to." But so much else is so structurally coy that real effects are muted and disadvantaged: O'Brien is writing a book more about earnestness than about war, and the peekaboos of this isn't really me but of course it truly is serve no true purpose. They make this an annoyingly arty book, hiding more than not behind Hemingwayesque time-signatures and puerile repetitions about war (and memory and everything else, for that matter) being hell and heaven both. A disappointment.

Pub Date: March 28, 1990

ISBN: 0618706410

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Oct. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1990

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What's most worthy in this hefty, three-part volume of still more Hemingway is that it contains (in its first section) all the stories that appeared together in the 1938 (and now out of print) The Fifth Column and the First Forty-Nine Stories. After this, however, the pieces themselves and the grounds for their inclusion become more shaky. The second section includes stories that have been previously published but that haven't appeared in collections—including two segments (from 1934 and 1936) that later found their way into To Have and Have Not (1937) and the "story-within-a-story" that appeared in the recent The garden of Eden. Part three—frequently of more interest for Flemingway-voyeurs than for its self-evident merits—consists of previously unpublished work, including a lengthy outtake ("The Strange Country") from Islands in the Stream (1970), and two poor-to-middling Michigan stories (actually pieces, again, from an unfinished novel). Moments of interest, but luckiest are those who still have their copies of The First Forty-Nine.

Pub Date: Dec. 2, 1987

ISBN: 0684843323

Page Count: 666

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 1987

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