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by Neela Vaswani

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 2004
ISBN: 1-889330-96-5
Publisher: Sarabande

Thirteen stories by Indian-American Vaswani.

The experiences of immigrants (or of their children) who have come to America but not quite found their feet here provides much of Vaswani’s material in stories that play with the notions of culture and homeland from a variety of perspectives. The protagonist of “Bing-Chen,” for example, is a half-Chinese, half-American adolescent who ventures into Chinatown for a haircut and reflects on his own inability to feel truly at home in either white or Asian society. In “Domestication of an Imaginary Goat,” a young Indian woman in New York fantasizes with her American boyfriend about the home that she knows they will never have. Some of the tales are set abroad: The title story, for instance, is about the travails of a young orphaned girl living in a Catholic boarding school in India during an election riot, while “Sita and Mrs. Durber” follows a schoolteacher in India who tries to help a precocious but withdrawn girl. “Bolero” is the story of a boy who grows up on a farm during the Spanish Civil War and manages with some difficulty to emigrate to America, where he studies at Juilliard and goes on to become an orchestra conductor, while “Blue, Without Sorrow” offers a short family history from the perspective of a melancholy Mexican woman who recovered from a mortal illness as a girl and later moves to Arizona (after her father dies). There are also simpler stories that stand stylistically apart from the rest, like “The Rigors of Dance Lessons,” about a husband and wife who (in what becomes an apparent metaphor of their marriage) sign up for dance lessons.

A strange and not altogether satisfying mix: newcomer Vaswani takes up certain themes, but her work seems not to have found an overriding focus or coherence.