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THE FIVE-DOLLAR SMILE by Shashi Tharoor

THE FIVE-DOLLAR SMILE

and Other Stories

By Shashi Tharoor

Pub Date: July 1st, 1993
ISBN: 1-55970-225-7
Publisher: Arcade

 A collection of early stories--most written when the Indian- born Tharoor (Show Business, etc.) was in his late teens and early 20s--that are more a foretaste of the good things to come than accomplishments in themselves. With the exception of ``The Solitude of the Short-story Writer,'' the pieces here are set in India, where cosmopolitan city-dwellers may have a lingering sentimental affection for the countryside they long ago left but are seduced by an increasingly Western culture. Two stories--``The Village Girl'' and ``City Girl''--are updated versions of the old children's tale of ``The Country Mouse and the Town Mouse'': a sophisticated male student (in the first story) and a sophisticated young woman (in the second), both reluctantly visiting their respective family's old country homes, are taught some surprising--and profound--lessons by the countryfolk they thoughtlessly seduce. The most mature piece here is that of the title, in which a lonely orphan--the ``poster- child'' of an organization raising money for the institution--is determined to visit the family in America that have ``adopted'' him and writes deliberately touching letters to them. The letters result in a ticket for a three-week visit, but on the flight, surrounded by strangers and unfamiliar objects, the boy suddenly experiences an intense loneliness: ``he was alone, lost somewhere between a crumpled magazine clipping and the glossy brightness of a color photograph.'' Other notables are: ``The Boutique'' (a son witnesses the humiliation of his mother by a group of urban sophisticates); ``Auntie Rita (a young man's affair with his aunt in the city ``becomes a ticket back home, but not just to the life he had known at home, new worlds beckoned''); and the bittersweet ``The Death of a Schoolmaster'' (a politically ambitious son causes inadvertent harm). Like most youthful forays: best forgiven and, with few exceptions, best forgotten.