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

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

"White Dancing Elephants" A Short Story by Chaya Bhuvaneswar.- from her Debut Collection

Website of Chaya Bhuvaneswar - with links to her work, interviews, and reviews

Dhanz Books - One of the most interesting publisher's websites I have seen

I first became aware of the amazing stories of Chaya Bhuvaneswar in a news letter from PEN.  It was announced that she, along with four other writers, was shorted  listed for their annual award for Best Debut Short Story Collection. On her website, one of the best and most respectful to readers of author websites I am familiar with, I learned of numerous awards and looked through the glowing reviews.  I am very interested in fiction dealing with the interface between south  Asian culture and that of the Anglophone west.  I knew I wanted to learn more about her work.

Years ago when I first began posting on short story collections I followed standard procedures, post briefly on a few of the stories then conclude with metaphor laden concluding remarks and issue a recommendation.  Sometime ago I moved toward focusing on individual stories.  If I like a writer as much as I do Chaya Bhuvaneswar I post on numerours of the stories.  This seems more respectful of the writer, better for serious readers and for me also.  Writing about a work seems to increase my understanding and helps me recall the story.

" White Dancing Elephants" is the title and lead story of the collection.
Told in the first person by a South Asian woman living in London consists of her thoughts, nearly her stream of consciousness,as she walks through the financial district of London during what she describes as a "tropical rain".  (Having been in rain storms in London this in itself is a very acute aspect of the skill of Bhuvaneswar.). She thinks of her experiences around a miscarriage.  The rain brings to her mind the flow of blood that signeled this event.  She begins to speak to the lost child, telling him, she seems to personify him as a boy, what sort of life he might have had.  As she her walk takes her into the Indian section of London, she begins to intwine her reflections with Hindu/Buddhist idelogy and culture.  She imagines her lost son married to a woman dancing for celestial musicians, an image taken from temple mosaics of the Khmer empire.  She turns the sounds of London into the roars of tigers. 

I want to share with you enough of the amazing prose to give you a feel for her style.

"Every May Day, here on the riverbank where I’m stumbling now, there is a festival with Ferris wheels and carnival contraptions, displays and tricks that can cause accidents. And there are animals—swans, horses, maybe even dancing elephants. I lie down on the grassy bank and dream of you. I dream of elephants, thumping a distant melody, disrupting the forest. (If you were here now, my darling, how we’d dance, my love. And if you were old enough and strong enough to move your feet deliberately, you’d sing. You’d talk to me.) I lie down now and feel the weight of it on me, a white dancing elephant that I can see with my eyes closed, airy and Disney in one dream, bellowing despair and showing tusks in the other. In the last dream, a gash of red stains the white hide, and I am forced to watch an elephant dying. It makes want to sink into the earth, ashamed and finally mindful of my own blood. The sound of people walking on the bridge becomes a din. I close my eyes, drained, dreaming of six white tusks entering my flesh. I slide off my shoes. Now I could roll underwater. Now I could write the words describing how and why I ended my life. The woman found in the Isis River in June of this year was forty but was found to be pregnant. She was on her way, authorities learned, to give birth at her father’s home outside of London, as is the custom for Asians, but by the time she reached the river she had lost the pregnancy. Or it is possible, though less likely, that the child was born along the way and disappeared below the ripples of water, along the bank".

As I read this story for the third time I am still not sure how long ago these events occured.  The story is structured almost as if the walk from an affluent area of London into a South Asian jungle long ago.  

This is a very powerful story.  I greatly look forward to reading the other sixteen stories in White Dancing Elephants.

CHAYA BHUVANESWAR is a practicing physician and writer whose work has appeared or is forthcoming in Narrative Magazine, The Awl, Tin House, Michigan Quarterly Review, Notre Dame Review, story South, aaduna, r.k.v.r.y. and elsewhere. She has received a Henfield writing award, a Rhodes scholarship, and is a frequent public speaker on social justice as well as trauma and recovery. Her debut short story collection, White Dancing Elephants, was selected as the winner of Dzanc Books' 2017 Short Story Collection Prize.  From  the publisher's webpage

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1 comment:

Buried In Print said...

What a difficult topic to write about. And, yet, something so many people would find useful to read about. It's interesting that you find good reading recommendations in the PEN newsletters, which actually makes good sense!