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

Friday, August 8, 2014

"Road Kill" by Romesh Gunesekera (December 2, 2013, from The New Yorker)

Romesh Gunesekera writers primarily about life in contemporary Sri Lanka in the years after the long civil war.  He has written a number of well regarded short stories told from the point of view of a driver of a van for tourists and wealthier residents on long cross country journeys.  You can get a good feel for the atmosphere of the country and the excellant prose style of Gunesekera in the opening lines of the story:

"TThe first night I stayed in Kilinochchi I was a little apprehensive. Most of us living in the south of Sri Lanka had come to think of this town as the nerve center of terror. As Mr. Wahid, my first Malaysian client, said, in English even the name sounded brutal—like the kind of town where you could imagine a Clint Eastwood character striding in and notching the stock of his rifle with yet another senseless killing"

As the story opens the driver is on a long trip, taking a recently married couple, the wife is seven months pregnant, to see property the husband plans to buy to set up a family home.  In a subtle touch, the wife refers to the driver as "Mr. Van Driver".  The roads are rough and they stop half way overnight.  There are special quarters for drivers.  The driver meets and converses with the young woman who mangages the hotel.  She has been to hotel management school.  Many of their clients are European tourists, called "E Ts".  The woman seems the epitome of refined well raised gentility but we quickly begin to wonder if this is just a mask for the tourists.  

Suddenly a waiter yells out "Rat" and what happens next is really just a marvelous set piece

"The waiter, who had moved to the back of the room, started. “Rat,” he yelped.

Miss Saraswati spun around. A big brown rodent was scurrying across the floor toward the tallboy in the far corner. She hissed loudly and sharply, and it froze for a moment. As it began to edge forward again, she grasped my beer bottle by the neck and flung it. The bottle hit the rat with such force that the creature thudded against the wall. The bottle rolled along, unbroken. Its base had smashed the animal’s small skull.

“Burn it,” she instructed the waiter. “Use a plastic bag. Wash your hands afterward.” She turned to me. “Sorry about that. I’ll bring you another bottle.”

I stared at Miss Saraswati. “You learn to do that at Jaffna hotel school?”

I really enjoyed this story, it is perceptive and the characters are all very well drawn. 

There are links to this and other stories by the author on his webpage.

I hope for sure to read more of his work.

Mel u

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