Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction and Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel and post Colonial Asian Fiction, Yiddish Culture, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality historical novels are some of my Literary Interests

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows by Balli Kaur Jaswal - 2017

Erotic Stories of Punjabi Widows by Balli Kaur Jaswal

Be warned, this novel might shock you, might leave you feeling the need for your own erotic encounters.  For sure I did not at first quite believe what I was reading.

The plot centers around Nikki, born in London to Punjabi immigrants.  Her parents are Sikhs. The lives of women are very much still defined by traditions imported from India.  Nikki, about twenty, is trying to find a way to live in harmony with the very judgemental Sikh community (there is even group of young men who monitor unmarried women for improper dress and such).  Nikki's father recently died, she is a law school drop out, currently working as a bartender. After talking to her more traditional sister and her mother about the direction of her life, she decides to try to earn extra money, some of which will go to her mother, by starting a class in creative writing for women at the London Punjabi center.  The family conversations revolve around Nikki's lack of direction.

As Jaswal wonderfully shows us, marriages were still often  arranged and had to be with another Sikh.  Nikki scorns ads placed on a match making board at the center.  Her venture into internet matchmaking websites was just hilarious, a marvelous satrical  segment.

When her class begins the students are all Widows, it seems married or single women are not supposed to go out to classes.  Nikki plans on teaching creative writing, through a workshop like approach.  She is surprised to learn some of the women cannot write in English or Punjabi.   Most of the students thought they were signing up to learn to write English.  Nikki at first does not know how to begin.  One of the students finds a collection of erotic stories and shares them with the class.  Soon Nikki realizes the women can be drawn out by having those who can write, produce stories of erotic encounters.  They end up producing very sensual most would say X-rated stories about sexual encounters. Most of the women have been with only their late husbands. We see the women begin to rise above their cultural restrictions.  We learn one is not a widow but was abandoned by her husband.

Nikki does have her own romance.  It runs most of the course of the novel and was very integral to the novel.

Jaswal is a very talented writer.  The conversations are perfect, the characters real and she gives us a very good feel for the London Punjabi community.  I liked Nikki and her family.  The erotic stories are a lot of fun.

I really enjoyed Erotic Stories of Punjabi Widows by Balli Kaur Jaswal.  
This is a very perceptive totally fun to read work.  


is the author of Inheritance, which won the Sydney Morning Herald’s Best Young Australian Novelist Award in 2014 and was adapted into a film at the Singapore International Festival of the Arts in 2017.Her second novel Sugarbread was a finalist for the 2015 inaugural Epigram Books Fiction Prize and the 2018 Singapore Literature Prize. 

Her third novel Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows (Harper Collins/William Morrow) was released internationally to critical acclaim in March 2017. Translation rights to this novel have been sold in France, Spain, Italy, Israel, Poland, Germany, Sweden, Greece, China, Brazil and Estonia. Film rights to Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows have been acquired by Ridley Scott’s production company, Scott Free Productions and Film Four in the UK. Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows was also picked by Reese Witherspoon’s book club and The Girly Book Club in 2018.
Jaswal’s short fiction and non-fiction writing have appeared in the UK Sunday Express, Cosmopolitan Magazine, The New York Times, Harpers Bazaar, Conde Nast Traveller and Best Australian Short Stories, among other publications and periodicals. She has travelled widely to appear in international writers festivals to conduct workshops and lectures on creative writing, pursuing an artistic career, the power of storytelling, global citizenship and social justice advocacy through literature. A former writing fellow at the University of East Anglia, Jaswal has taught creative writing at Yale-NUS College and Nanyang Technological University where she is currently pursuing a PhD. 
Jaswal’s new novel, The Unlikely Adventures of the Shergill Sisters, will be released in April 2019. The novel is a dark comedy following the travels of three British-Indian sisters on a pilgrimage in India to fulfil their late mother’s final wishes.

I really want to read her latest novel, The Unlikely Adventures of the Shergill Sisters.

Mel u

Monday, April 22, 2019

Heitor - A Short Story by Chaya Bhuvaneswar - From White Dancing. Elephants- 2018

In the nearly ten years in which i have maintained The Reading Life i have never seen as much attention given to a debut Short story collection as that given to White Dancing Elephants by Chaya Bhuvaneswar.  So far i have posted on four of her marvelous very creative stories, all have death as a core factor and deal with the interaction of persons of Indian background with western countries.  

I have just finished Reading The Anatomy of Criticism by Northrup Frye.  He talks extensively and very learnedly about the various ways in which myths are used to structure literary works. In all three of the stories I read prior today we can see Bhuvaneswar very profoundly use ancient Indian myths not only as part of the rhetoric structure of her stories but she shows us how people retreat into deeply rooted ancient archetypal myths to help with the otherwise unfathomable aspects of their lives.  She overlays the ancient myths with modern reality.  

Early European commercial ventures into South and South East Asia societies by England were fronted by The British East India company.  The Portuguese and the Dutch also gave near sovereign power to trading companies.  Human beings were among the items traded.  John Bull was a slaver and a rapist.  Most colonial explorers and traders were single men.  Of course, as the narrator of this story tells us, they wanted women,either as wives or slaves.  Slaves from India were regarded differently from African:

"Small for his age then, easily bound, Heitor was brought by ship and force, by sons of spice traders, by members of large prosperous companies, brothers of men who had settled in Goa, the place in India where the first human remains of the Old World were found. Those traders had married the most beautiful Indian women they could find, converting them to Christianity with jewels stolen from their own ancestors. Heitor was sold for an elite price to work for the nuns of Evora, and their novitiates. Indian, Chinese, Japanese slaves were bought and sold in Portuguese as males, than African slaves, and thus allowed to work in the convents. As a child, he was striking for his quietude, forming a graceful harmony with the aggressive potential of his prematurely hard and strong limbs. Beginning at the quick, observant, diligent age of eight, Heitor was saved from harder labor, given to the convent’s Indian gardener and its cook. They were nowhere to be found on his last night. The men, lovers, were hiding for fear of being chained. They were both drunk and in despair that they had not foreseen his fate."

Heitor was sentenced to death for sexual contact with Portuguese nuns.  There is an interesting plot in the story.  It also turns on sexual relations between enslaved persons and Europeans.

Chaya Bhuvaneswar studied Indian poetic traditions with the support of an NEH Younger Scholars grant and as a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford, concentrating in Sanskrit. She has received a Time-Life Writing Award as well as a Yale Elmore Willetts Prize for Fiction. Her short stories have been anthologized in Her Mother’s Ashes 2,and featured on the Other Storiespodcast. An Affiliated Fellow in Writing at the Boston University Center for the Study of Asia, she lives in Newton, Massachusetts.She is a practicing physician.

This story is part of our Stories by South Asian Women Project.

Oleander Bousweau 
Mel u

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Cold Atlas by David Mitchell - 2004

Cold Atlas is the fifth novel by David Mitchell I have had the pleasure of reading.  For sure it is the most challenging, highest retarded of his works.  There are six story lines in Cold Atlas.  The reader's first challenge is to ascertain what these stories of six different people in widely diverse places and times have to do with  each other and how they work together. (Wikipedia has a good summary article.)

I am behind in my posting so this post is going to be very brief.

Please share your experience with David Mitchell with us.

DAVID MITCHELL is the award-winning and bestselling author of Slade House, The Bone Clocks, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, Black Swan Green, Cloud Atlas, Number9Dream, and Ghostwritten. Twice shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, Mitchell was named one of the 100 most influential people in the world by Time magazine in 2007. With KA Yoshida, Mitchell translated from the Japanese the internationally bestselling memoir The Reason I Jump. He lives in Ireland with his wife and two children. davidmitchellbooks Twitter: @david_mitchell

I hope to read Number9Dream in May.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

"Teaching I.L. Peretz’s Story 'Miracles on the Sea’ To Children Who Are Sentenced to Die" - An Essay By Chava Rosenfarb - circa 1942

Essential Resource on Chava Rosenfarb

 "Teaching I.L. Peretz’s Story 'Miracles on the Sea’ To Children Who Are Sentenced to Die"  - An Essay By Chava Rosenfarb - date of composition not given.  

Translated from the Yiddish by Goldie Morgentaler. Reprinted from Confessions of a Yiddish Writer and Other Essays, by Chava Rosenfarb, edited by Goldie Morgentaler, available this June. Copyright © 2019 McGill-Queen’s University Press.

"Springtime, when I see the carefree children of Montreal chasing each other in the parks, kicking balls in the alleys, or speeding by me on their bicycles; when their boisterous shouts and laughter rise from the yards and street corners to echo against the walls of my workroom, I am reminded of the children of the Lodz ghetto. Most often, my memory picks out the beautiful face of one dark-haired boy with large, coal-black eyes. Once, long ago, the radiance of those eyes, filled as they were with the infinite longing for spring, illuminated the oppressive gray of a classroom located in the attic of a factory building in the Lodz ghetto. The face was that of my favorite pupil, Shloymele."

There are images of five writers on the side bar of my blog, Chava Rosenfarb's is the most recently added.  She is one of the highest regarded 20th century Yiddish language writers.  In reading once again her biography I cannot help being shocked that she was sent to Auschwitz at age 21, along with her younger sister then 17 and their mother in her mid forties.  All survived.  

The essay featured today "Teaching I.L. Peretz’s Story 'Miracles on the Sea’ To Children Who Are Sentenced to Die"  is about her experience as a teacher in the Lodz Ghetto, she was about nineteen teaching Yiddish literature to boys in their early teens.  Rosenfarb very movingly describes what it was like teaching boys sure to soon be murdered in the Holocaust.  I cannot help but be in awe of the depth of strength this must have required.  

I first began reading Yiddish Literature in November 2012 when the Yale Press gave me the ten volume Yale Yiddish Library.  Reading on I began to see Yiddish culture as one that very deeply respected all forms of reading, not just that of the Torah.  (I highly recommend the essays in Adam Kirsh's Who Wants to be a Jewish Writer, forthcoming from Yale University to understand the importance of textual study.). I came to see the Holocaust as a war on a culture deeply into the reading life.  Upon liberation from a concentration camp, many asked for something to read before food or clean clothes.  

Teaching I.L. Peretz’s Story 'Miracles on the Sea’ To Children Who Are Sentenced to Die" deals with Rosenfarb's time in the Lodz Ghetto where she was a teacher in an illegal school for Jewish children.  Most all the children were doomed to be murdered and everyone, including them, knew this.  We can see the tremendous valuation given to education in the culture.  Most would just say why bother teaching literature to children who will soon be sent to a death camp?

"For these working children of the ghetto, illegal schools were organized in the buildings of the ressorts where they were employed. I worked as a teacher in one such school at the Metal-Works RessortNo. 2. My subject was Yiddish and Yiddish literature. The classroom was located in the loft of the building and was furnished with a few tables, benches, and a blackboard. The loft, though drafty and bitterly cold during the winter, was nevertheless spacious and bright. Beyond and below the small windows lay the ghetto, and beyond the ghetto, the city of Lodz could be seen spread out as in a bas-relief.  From that perch it was also easy to see German military vehicles stopping in front of the factory to unload the members of an army commission on their way to conduct an inspection.  In such an event, we all made ourselves scarce, sneaking down the back stairs of theressortand into the street.

My students were 11- to 12-year-old boys, since only men were employed at the Metal-Works ressort. Some of the boys barely looked their age, while others resembled withered old people. They climbed the stairs to the loft directly from their work stations, their faces and hands smeared black with machine oil and dirt. Disciplined and solemn, adult expressions imprinted on their faces, they slid into their seats on the long benches. There was not a trace in their conduct or demeanor of the playfulness or mischief characteristic of 11- or 12-year-old boys. Learning was serious business in the ghetto. With passionate greed they devoured the meager crumbs of knowledge that the teachers managed to put before them during the limited hours allotted for the lessons.
Shloymele, my favorite student, lived all alone in the ghetto. The rest of his family had been caught during a raid. On the morning of the raid he had left home to fetch the family’s turnip ration at the vegetable distribution place. While he was gone, his parents and siblings had been loaded onto trucks and transported to the train station. But Shloymele’s life had been temporarily spared."

I strongly urge all to read this powerful essay.  

I looked for Peretz's story in the books I have and online but could not find it.  

"Chava Rosenfarb was one of the most important Yiddish novelists and writers of the second half of the twentieth century. Her primary subject was the Holocaust; she was a survivor of the Lodz ghetto, Auschwitz, and Bergen Belsen.

She was born in Lodz, Poland in 1923. When she was a child, her father encouraged her to write about her experiences and to think about being a writer. In 1939, when she was 16, the Nazis invaded Poland – and her life was changed forever.  

She and her family were incarcerated, along with the rest of the Jewish population of Lodz in the Lodz ghetto. In the ghetto she wrote poems during those days of constant terror. She wrote about  the ongoing struggle to endure—writings she lost and later recreated from memory.

In 1944 when the Lodz ghetto was liquidated, Chava and her family were transported to Auschwitz and later to Bergen Belsen, before being liberated by British forces in 1945. After spending several years homeless and stateless in Europe, she came to Canada in 1950 and settled in Montreal.". From 

She died in 2011

There are other nonfiction writings online linked to this story.

Mel u

Thursday, April 18, 2019

The Chief Inspector’s Daughter - A Short Story by Hasantika Sirisena - 2016

A Very Good Background Article on the causes of ethnic violence in Sri Lanka

I found this article very helpful in understanding The historical basis for the conlict in Sri Lanka between those of Singalese heritage and Tamils which has resulted in over 100,000 deaths.  This is the legacy of British Colonialism, 
going back over 200 years. Today's story arises from this history.

“Sri Lanka is a paranoid country. Twenty years of civil war makes us jump at our own shadows. Everyone has stories like Siva’s. Stories of cars and vans that come in the day or in the middle of the night." - from The Chief Inspector's Daughter

Today's story is set in the capital city of Sri Lanka, Columbo.  Narrated by a nineteen year old Singalese woman, a medical student and the only child of the chief inspector of the police department.  He was a widower who has seemingly no interest in remarrying.  They are very close and it expected she will take care of him in his old age.  Her boyfriend, also a medical student is from a wealthy Tamil family, a relationship unacceptable to both their families.

“We speak English to each other because I do not know Tamil, and he does not speak Sinhala unless he must. There are other things that divide us—different gods, different history—but Siva and I also have at least one thing in common. I want to urge him to find somewhere else we can drive to. I want nothing more than to ease the burning I feel whenever I am near him. The pure physical need that overcomes me too often these days

One night they are parked in a secluded area. Four Tamil men and a prostitute are found the next morning murdered execution style near the spot where they parked.  The woman asks her father if this could be the work of the Singalese Army or the police. She knows people have been tortured at the station where her father has an important job.  Her boyfriend begins to fear his family will be targeted, maybe murdered.  The daughter leaves the house one night, just walking around.  Two of her father's police officers find her and bring her home.

Things go terribly wrong between her and her father.  

I will leave the rest of the plot untold.  Hasanthika Sirisena brings out the impact of the ethnic hatred on a personal level.  A family is badly damaged.  Maybe the two medical students could have made a good marriage, bringing grandchildren for the widower.  His daughter tells him she hopes he dies alone.

This story appears in the debut collection of Sirisena, The Other One. This is a powerful story and for sure more of her work will be featured on The Reading Life.

Hasanthika Sirisena’s essays and stories have appeared in The Globe and Mail, WSQ, Narrative, The Kenyon Review, Glimmer Train, Epoch, StoryQuarterly, Narrative and other magazines. Her work has been anthologized in Best New American Voices, and named a distinguished story by Best American Short Stories in 2011 and 2012. She is a recipient of fellowships from the MacDowell Colony and Yaddo. In 2008 she received a Rona Jaffe Writers’ Award. She is currently an associate fiction editor at West Branch magazine and a Visiting Assistant Professor at Susquehanna University...from her website

This story is part of The Short Stories by South Asian Women Project.

From the author's Website

"Set in Sri Lanka and America, the ten short stories in this debut collection feature characters struggling to contend with the brutality of a decades-long civil war while also seeking security, love, and hope. The characters are students, accountants, soldiers, servants. They are immigrants and strivers. They are each forced to make sometimes comic, sometimes tragic, choices. What they share, despite what they’ve endured, is the sustaining power of human connection."

Oleander Bousweau

Monday, April 15, 2019

“Of Durians and Vipers” - A Short Story by Damyanti Biswas - The Griffith Review -2015

You May Read Today’s Story Here

“Of Durians and Vipers” by Damyanti Biswas

“Of Durians and Vipers” is set on a Durian plantation in Bali Pulau on Penang Island, Malaysia.  The plantation is owned by Rick, a Canadian expat, who has lived longer on Penang Island than his native Canada and his wife.  He is married to a Chinese woman, the daughter of a plantation owner.  His In Laws did not initially approve of him.

They have a sixteen year old Chinese-Canadian daughter Connie. Rick’s wife was the one who built up the plantation, ran the household, the durian business and got them on The Durian Plantation Tour program.  Now that his wife is very ill, Connie runs the tours.  Rick feels more than a little lost.  The tourists love to feast on Durians.  

Penang is a prime tourist spot for residents of Manila, Singapore and of course Kuala Lumpur.  It is a World Heritage destination for the architectural remains of the pre-World War Two era and has lots of beautiful beaches, five star resorts and such.  It is also famous for Durians.  Durians are but they smell horrible, so horrible airlines ban them.  Black and Yellow Vipers live in the trees.  We learn their bite is nasty but not normally fatal.  Of course nobody wants snakes in the house so Rick’s wife used to make sure the maids kept them out.  They do keep down rats and such so they have value.

Rick’s wife is now almost a complete invalid, rarely getting out of bed.  They employ two women as nurses, one an Indian and the other Chinese.  Rick is very involved in her care. Biswas does a brilliant job letting us see the impact this has on Rick. His wife used to totally take care of everything.  We see Rick oscillating from guilt to resentment.  Still a young man, he is deeply ashamed of his first ever act of adultery, with his wife’s Indian nurse.  I sort of got the feeling she was hoping when the wife passes, to play a role in Rick’s life.

Snakes are all over plantation, even entering Rick’s dreams.

The close is opening ending.  Has Rick found a solution to his problem?

“Of Durians and Vipers” is a first rate short story, in just a few pages Biswas shows us years of a marriage, lets us get an inside look at a Durian Plantation, and skillfully develops her characters.

I hope to read more of the work of Damyanti Biswas. There are links to other stories on her website.

This story Is part of The Reading Life Short Stories by South Asian Women Project.  

Oleander Bousweau 

Friday, April 12, 2019

Varieties of Exile - A Short Story by Mavis Gallant - first published in The New Yorker - January 11, 1976

"Like every other form of art, literature is no more and nothing less than a matter of life and death. The only question worth asking about a story — or a poem, or a piece of sculpture, or a new concert hall — is, Is it dead or alive?".. 

Mavis Gallant

April 11, 1922 - Montreal

1950 - moves to Paris

September 1, 1951- publishes, in The New Yorker, her first short story.  She would go onto publish 116 stories in The New Yorker. ( I greatly enjoy looking at the covers of the issue in which a story was published.)

February 18, 2014 - passes away in her beloved Paris

Thinking about the quote from Gallant with which I began this post, all her stories past her test-she can put so much life in just a few pages.

“Varieties of Exile” is included in the collection Home Truths. It is one of six linked stories centering on Linnett Muir. (I learned from Buried in Print’s post on this story that Gallant wrote six linked stories about Linnett.) The first story in the series, “In Youth there is Pleasure” introduces us to a young woman moving back from New York City to her home town in Montreal.  I knew I was going to like her when I learned she was reading Sylvia Townsend Warner.  (If you have not read her Elfin Kingdom stories you are in for a real treat.  Like Gallant, Warner published many stories in The New Yorker.). She is maybe 18 and on her own emotionally and financially.

As “Varieties of Exile” opens World War Two has just started.  Montréal is inundated with European exiles.

“In the third summer of the war I began to meet refugees. There were large numbers of them in Montreal–to me a source of infinite wonder. I could not get enough of them. They came straight out of the twilit Socialist-literary landscape of my reading and my desires. I saw them as prophets of a promised social order that was to consist of justice, equality, art, personal relations, courage, generosity. generosity. Each of them–Belgian, French, Catholic German, Socialist German, Jewish German, Czech–was a book I tried to read from start to finish. My dictionaries were films, poems, novels, Lenin, Freud. That the refugees tended to hate one another seemed no more than a deplorable accident. Nationalist pig-headedness, that chronic, wasting, and apparently incurable disease, was known to me only on Canadian terms and I did not always recognize its symptoms. Anything I could not decipher I turned into fiction, which was my way of untangling knots. At the office where I worked I now spent my lunch hour writing stories about people in exile. I tried to see Montreal as an Austrian might see it and to feel whatever he felt. I was entirely at home with foreigners, which is not surprising the home was all in my head.”

As i read this, knowing Gallant wanted so much to leave Canada forever, if this is drawing at all on her life history.  I admit as i read the Canada based stories i look for her reasons for leaving.

All of her coworkers are older men.  Most married but they advise her against marriage.  She meets a man on a train.  She calls him an “English Remitance Man”.  A remitance man lives on money from home, sent on condition he live 
forever in Exile.  Usually he did something his father did not like at all so he paid him to leave.  As Linnett tells the story, the remitance man never really grows up, saved but cursed by his father’s money.  Linnett develops some feelings for him but he is married and her feelings were weak.

Linnett lives a Reading centered life.  She experiences things through her resding.  She makes a reference to Stefan Zweig.  I find this very interesting.  Zweig was driven into exile by his vision of a collapsing European culture.  Even though he made a fortune from his writings, he was kind of a remitance man.  His family wealth freed him to write, travel, and collect objects de art.
He was an Austrian Jew who tried to define himself as Austrian, in exile from his Ashganazi roots.  I saw that Linnett was reading “The Russians”, she is getting more into Central European Literature. 

As the story progresses Linnett marries.  As you read the Linnett stories keep in mind they are her looking back on the past.  She sees her past as part of a plot leading to her present.