Kismetwali and Other Stories

Nijhawan’s impressive debut, a collection of loosely interlinked stories, explores the plight of India’s working poor.
The highly segmented structure of work in Indian society, often determined by caste and class, means that specific vocations are often handed down from one generation to the next. Although the working poor’s lives mostly unfold parallel to the upper classes’, these stories show them intersecting in interesting ways. In the story “Shavewala,” Hari the barber attends to Vinay’s grooming needs by visiting the home his client shares with his wife, Kaveri; the barber is called upon to perform a necessary service when his client is near death. In “Safaiwali,” cleaning lady Shanti keeps up an apartment for a young, single woman, Mandira, who’s trying to carve out a new life for herself in the city, far from her small hometown; Shanti serves a critical function when Mandira has a love affair that doesn’t end well. A dash of noir style (“The gathering darkness, the subtle drop in temperature, and the salty-sweet whiffs of ocean breeze created the illusion of cleanliness in a place where there was little to be found”) adds spice to many of these stories, and fellow Indian writer Jhumpa Lahiri’s influence can be seen in the abrupt, twist endings. Nijhawan shows her outsider perspective in how she paints these working “waalas” and “waalis” in a strictly positive light. Each underclass character, some of whom appear in more than one story, is relentlessly virtuous and of strong moral fiber; as a result, the very people that the author sets out to showcase occasionally seem one-dimensional. Nevertheless, these stories, which are supplemented by an extensive glossary, show a remarkable degree of empathy for people who go largely unnoticed.

An often incisive story collection that manages to show just how closely interconnected people truly are.

Pub Date: July 12, 2015

ISBN: 978-9-38-503172-4

Page Count: -

Publisher: Om Books International

Review Posted Online: Sept. 10, 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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A welcome introduction to a major author and a pleasure for fans of contemporary European literature.


Thoughts on travel as an existential adventure from one of Poland’s most lauded and popular authors.

Already a huge commercial and critical success in her native country, Tokarczuk (House of Day, House of Night, 2003) captured the attention of Anglophone readers when this book was shortlisted for the Man Booker International Prize in 2018. In addition to being a fiction writer, Tokarczuk is also an essayist and a psychologist and an activist known—and sometimes reviled—for her cosmopolitan, anti-nationalist views. Her wide-ranging interests are evident in this volume. It’s not a novel exactly. It’s not even a collection of intertwined short stories, although there are longer sections featuring recurring characters and well-developed narratives. Overall, though, this is a series of fragments tenuously linked by the idea of travel—through space and also through time—and a thoughtful, ironic voice. Movement from one place to another, from one thought to another, defines both the preoccupations of this discursive text and its style. One of the extended stories follows a man named Kunicki whose wife and child disappear on vacation—and suddenly reappear. A first-person narrator offers a sort of memoir through movement, recalling her own peregrinations bit by bit. There are pilgrims and holidaymakers. Tokarczuk also explores the connection between travel and colonialism with side trips into “exotic” practices and cabinets of curiosity. There are philosophical digressions, like a meditation on the flight from Irkutsk to Moscow that lands at the same time it takes off. None of this is to say that this book is dry or didactic. Tokarczuk has a sly sense of humor. It’s impossible not to laugh at the opening line, “I’m reminded of something that Borges was once reminded of….” Of course someone interested in maps and territories, of the emotional landscape of travel and the difference between memory and reality would feel an affinity for the Argentine fabulist.

A welcome introduction to a major author and a pleasure for fans of contemporary European literature.

Pub Date: Aug. 14, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-525-53419-8

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: May 15, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2018

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