Sundaresan (The Splendor of Silence, 2007, etc.) returns to short stories to chronicle the often extreme changes in contemporary Indian society.
For the most part, the author narrates her stories from the perspective of modernized or Westernized Indians trying to come to terms with the rural traditions they have left behind. In “Shelter of Rain,” a young woman who had been adopted out of an Indian orphanage and raised by white parents in Seattle receives a letter from her biological aunt and remembers some of the conditions of her early childhood. Others are more brutal—the narrator of “Fire” returns from America to her native India to confront her grandmother after learning about her younger sister Kamala’s death. The grandmother had led a group stoning against Kamala and her Muslim boyfriend because she feared the shame that their marriage would bring on the family. Similarly, in “The Faithful Wife,” a young reporter leaves the city when his grandmother tells him that their village is planning to burn a 12-year-old widow alive on her husband’s funeral pyre, in order to honor a centuries-old tradition. Other characters have a difficult time accepting the loss of tradition. Nathan, a new grandfather in “The Most Unwanted,” must come to terms with his illegitimate grandson, now living in his house. The grandfather resents the boy for what he perceives to be his daughter’s mistakes. And Meha, in “Three and a Half Seconds,” narrates a tragic story of moving her family to Mumbai from their rural rice farm, where her son becomes corrupted by the modern lifestyle and turns into a shallow monster.
Best at its most brutal, the shocking imagery saves this often overwritten collection from succumbing to immigrant clichés so common in contemporary South Asian fiction.