Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Monday, March 25, 2019

Outside - A Short Story by Amanthi Harris - published in Lighthouse - A Journal of New Writing - Issue 18, Winter 2018 to 2019

Outside - A Short Story by Amanthi Harris - published in Lighthouse - A Journal of New Writing - Issue 18, Winter 2018 to 2019

I have been reading  Amanthi Harris for sometime now.  I am always happy to have the opportunity to expand my reading of her work.  Of the two short stories and a novella I have read, two are about a young woman of Sri Lankan heritage living now in London with her very traditional parents while adjusting to English life.  One story is set in Sri Lanka.  The relationships of the young women  with their parents, especially their mothers, are strained  by the English men they are involved with.  Their parents want strictly Sri Lankan grandchildren!

In today's delightful story a young college woman, Maya, has come in from the outside, back home from college.

I loved the very sensory rich opening lines:

"Outside disappeared when the door closed, as you were taking off your coat in the hallway in the warmth, with the smell of fried curry-leaves and roasting black pepper and the scent of cloves; and the steam from the kitchen misted the windows with their sagging nets of lace flowers, the petals just prickled with mildew. Outside was where Maya lived now. They had sent her - sent her where they could never go, to pry behind old stone walls, to pass through ancient oak doors into panelled halls to reap the rewards of their labours and bring back what she learned.

She had returned with nothing, only altered, full of stories of new friends, of new vistas glimpsed and opening for her. She had grown loud-voiced and giant, her shyness gone, talking on the phone with her new friends, laughing without restraint, revelling in her brazenness. Her parents listened pained to the mention of men - one in particular whose call each day she waited for. He had invited her to a party in a city far away, a party they had forbidden her to attend.
‘Let’s have a dinner party,’ she told her mother, Lila. ‘What for?’
‘It’s weird doing nothing on a Saturday night.’"

Maya has new friends now, she "sees their wealth, comfort, and rootedness,the calm of their entitlement and wanted this"

Dan, the boy Maya likes, is having a party the same night but her parents will not allow her to go.  Maya makes a radical suggestion:

"there was no reason to eat in different rooms, the men sitting down all over the house talking cricket and the women in the kitchen stirring pots, eating between serving the men. Lila didn’t reply, reading over the shopping list.
‘Wine? You drink wine now?’ she demanded. ‘You’re drinking alcohol and running around with men? Very nice. We sent you to University to study."

Maya's mother tells her men will think she is easy.

The family member guests begin to arrive, about ten people.  Chief among them is Uncle Bobby her father's brother.   Bobby had a reputation as a "Playboy" before he finally settled down and married.  A debate breaks out over  whether or not University life has been a bad influence on Maya.  Uncle Bobby tells everyone he thinks she needs and deserves to expand her world.  

I as shocked by the ending, though not as much as Maya was!  

I really liked "Outside", lots of marvelous descriptions of food.  (The very last thing an immigrant will give up willingly is their food, clothes, religion, language all go first in the acculturation process.) 

As I read this story about generational tensions  yesterday, my 76 year old mother in law, 25 year old daughter and wife were at the kitchen table enjoying very traditional foods brought back from a visit to family property in way rural northern Philippines.  The family is intensely close but far from drama free.  The conversations and relationships depicted in "Outside" rang very true for me.

Amanthi Harris was born in Sri Lanka and grew up in London. She studied Fine Art at Central St Martins and has degrees in Law and Chemistry from Bristol University.

Her novel BEAUTIFUL PLACE will be published by Salt (September 2019). LANTERN EVENING, a novella, won the Gatehouse Press New Fictions Prize 2016 and was published by Gatehouse Press (2017). Her short stories have been published by Serpent’s Tail and broadcast on BBC Radio 4 as Afternoon Readings. She also runs StoryHug, an ACE funded storytelling, art and writing project.

Outside - A Short Story by Amanthi Harris - published in Lighthouse - A Journal of New Writing - Issue 18, Winter 2018 to 2019

This issue of Lighthouse- A Journal of New Writing has a very interesting mix of short stories, poetry, artwork, and commentary from a diverse group of writers.  

I am very much looking forward to her debut novel, Beautiful Place coming in September this year.  I hope to follow her work for a long time.

Be sure to check out her website to see her enchanted  art work.  

This story is included in our Stories by South Asian  Women project.

Mel u
Oleander  Bousweau

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