Category Archives: short stories

Darkness by Ratnakar Matkari. Translated from the Marathi by Vikrant Pande.

Darkness by Ratnakar Matkari Title: Darkness
Author: Ratnakar Matkari
Translated from the Marathi by Vikrant Pande
Publisher: HarperCollins India
ISBN: 978-9353573331
Genre: Short Stories, Horror
Pages: 228
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 3/5

I love the horror genre – whether it is in movies or books. Something about consuming it, getting terribly scared, and then not being able to sleep for days. Yes, it does seem kind of sadistic, but I enjoy the “thrill” of that as well.

So, when I came across Darkness by Ratnakar Matkari – a collection of 18 horror and supernatural stories, translated from the Marathi by Vikrant Pande, I was whooping for joy. Finally, there was one collection of horror stories, in translation, from the sub-continent. I am sure there are more, but I don’t know of them for now.

The book starts off with great promise. The opening story “Birthday” is about a young boy who can predict death-days by knowing your date of birth. Honestly, I was spooked by it. I think I even got gooseflesh. The titular story “Darkness” is excellently written – pulpy, takes the reader to the edge, and leaves you wondering what actually took place. A story of doppelgängers? Time travel? What just happened? As I progressed, I was skeptical about the quality of stories but surprisingly the pace and fear factor were maintained. “By the Clock” seemed predictable but wasn’t. Most of Matkari’s stories seem predictable but they aren’t and that’s the beauty of evoking the chill in the reader, long after the story is over.

At the same time, some stories did not work for me and seemed rushed. “I See Vikram” was so-so – about an affluent kid who seems to have an imaginary friend from the slums did not do it for me when it came to the writing or ambience.

Most of his stories hint at other dimensions, other worlds, time-travel, and of what will come to be which is already known to the characters. “Monsoon Guest” is a great example of infusing mythology with horror – some way also reminded me of the movie Tumbbad – the eeriness, the ambience which becomes a character in itself, and the dialogue that takes over the story.

While reading this book, I also often wondered if the experience would be even more enriching reading it in the original Marathi, and the answer was a resounding YES. Couple of reasons for it: The terrain and locales in which these stories are set are so deep-rooted in Maharashtra that only reading them in Marathi would do complete justice to the writer’s vision and storytelling capabilities. The second reason being, nothing like reading anything pulpy in the original language only to truly feel the emotion the author intended you to.

“Darkness” for me worked on several plot points, stories, and gave me the much-needed spooks. At the same time, it also got repetitive in most part, and predictable. I would still recommend this collection of stories, wonderfully translated by Vikrant Pande – keeping the essence intact in most stories. It is the kind of collection that will jolt you and make you also look over your shoulder once in a while.

The Sea Cloak & Other Stories by Nayrouz Qarmout. Translated from the Arabic by Perween Richards. Title story translated by Charis Bredin.

The Sea Cloak & Other Stories by Nayrouz Qarmout Title: The Sea Cloak & Other Stories
Author: Nayrouz Qarmout
Translated from the Arabic by Perween Richards
Title story translated by Charis Bredin
Publisher: Comma Press
ISBN: 9781905583782
Genre: Short Stories
Pages: 106
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Every book makes you want to know more about the world around us, the spaces we inhabit, and why are people the way they are. At least, well-written books make you want to do that. To research, to understand, and to view the story/stories from different perspectives. “The Sea Cloak & Other Stories” did that for me. The first thing I did in the process of reading this slim collection, was to not read it. Instead, I logged onto YouTube and watched a ten-minute video on the Israel-Palestine conflict (which I have tagged here, right at the end) to comprehend what I was getting into. This comprehension was purely from the view of empathy – to understand their lives as depicted in the stories and not be oblivious to the history of the writer.

Nayrouz Qarmout is a Palestinian author, and a women’s rights campaigner, living at the Gaza Strip. The stories in this book range from taking place in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, and also one on the Gaza Strip. I was overwhelmed reading every story from this collection. There was this tug at my heart, and this happened without judgement or taking sides.

Every story in this collection is not without conflict, of course, but at the heart of every conflict is just human emotion coming to fore – whether it is greed for land, the desperation to do better (Pen and Notebook, which is one of my favourite stories from the collection), or revenge (the story Our Milk certainly felt like that). Qarmout writes with such ease – the brutality of it all, without flinching (I think), making the reader uncomfortable, and forcing the reader to know more, ask more, and discover for themselves, which to me every well-written book should do.

As I read every story, turning page after page, I was taken in by what it means to be a Palestinian today. What does conflict mean to them? What do the words survival and freedom communicate? Do they say anything at all? When does history lose its significance? When do long-standing battles over land come to an end, so people can live without fear?

The writing of The Sea Cloak & Other Stories comes from such a personal space – it reflects on every page and through every story. The footnotes help in further understanding the conflict and how we get by in such times. For instance, the story “14 June” touches on the need of a mother to keep her daughters safe, at the cost of perhaps giving a part of herself. The stories hit you hard as they must. The translation by Perween Richards is as evocative as the original – the smells, sounds, objects come to life and become characters of the story – whether a glass of milk in “Our Milk” or lilies and what they mean in “White Lilies”. The title story translated by Charis Bredin holds up as a great start to this collection.

The Sea Cloak & Other Stories will stay with me for a long time. It will prompt me to know more, to read more, to watch more, and to understand more about the Israel-Palestine conflict. But more than that it has taught me to see different sides of the story, various stories that are lived, and the ones that also go unheard.

Links: 

And here is a link to Reading List of Palestinian Prose: 

https://electricliterature.com/a-reading-list-of-palestinian-prose/

 

Fabulous by Lucy Hughes-Hallett

Fabulous by Lucy Hughes-Hallett Title: Fabulous
Author: Lucy Hughes-Hallett
Publisher: Fourth Estate
ISBN: 978-0008334857
Genre: Short Stories, Fairy Tales & Myths
Pages: 224
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

March 2020 is turning out to be a great month when it comes to short-story collections, and Fabulous by Lucy Hughes-Hallett is the third one.

These eight stories are derived from popular and not-so-popular myths. Myths are constantly being adapted and this is one example of that. Each of these stories is set in modern Britain. The characters therefore are in tune with people we hear of or meet; people-traffickers, prostitutes, migrant workers, estate agents, librarians, and office-goers. These are ordinary people really, but all their stories are inspired by Graeco-Roman myths, or from the Bible, or from folklore.

We know these stories. We have heard of them or read them in their original form (if that’s a thing really). We know of Orpheus, Psyche, Tristan and Isolde, the Pied Piper, and Mary Magdalene, and if we don’t then these stories will make you want to know about them.

For me the stories that stood out were Pasiphae and the minotaur with seaside gangsters, the one with Mary Magdalena and Joseph, and the Pied Piper one. Having said that, each story is a commentary on the state we live in and what we have become as a people.

Hughes-Hallett’s style is direct. The range of retellings is wide enough, so it doesn’t get boring or mundane. I love the way the themes are constructed and presented to the reader. The stories are familiar and yet not so familiar. She blends the everyday with the mythical with great ease, and with each chapter I was more hooked and intrigued to know more. Fabulous is a collection of short stories that are whimsy, fantastical, sometimes literal, sometimes metaphorical, and random which worked beautifully for me.

 

And I Do Not Forgive You: Stories & Other Revenges by Amber Sparks

And I Do Not Forgive You - Stories & Other Revenges by Amber Sparks Title: And I Do Not Forgive You: Stories & Other Revenges
Author: Amber Sparks
Publisher: Liveright, W.W. Norton & Co.
ISBN: 978-1631496202
Genre: Short Stories, Magical Realism
Pages: 192
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

Amber Sparks writes short fiction with such deft and empathy, that it manages to hit all the right spots for me. There is fantasy in her stories, grounded in reality of our lives that make us see lives of others, while always holding a reflection up to ours. This collection of 22 stories is strange, mesmerising, and often tend to go to dark places, which some readers may not be comfortable with. She reimagines myths and legends, folk tales, fairy tales, and sometimes even reimagines the world we inhabit.

Whether she is writing about a teenage girl befriending a ghost in her trailer park or about a princess who wants to run away from her father, the King who wants to marry her, she packs a punch almost most of the time. These stories are about women, for women, and written by a woman. These stories put them to the front and that’s what I loved the most about them. There is no “male perspective” and to me that is always refreshing.

The stories might come across as whimsical sometimes but they are extremely profound (I reread some and loved them even more). For instance, love as sacrifice in We Destroy the Moon – that speaks of  new prophet or demigod or leader at the end, implies that why can’t a woman be at the helm of things? What is then the definition of a woman? Is she a mere follower? Or could be a leader?

The relationships between characters in these stories take their time to develop, some even come to light right at the end and that’s perhaps the beauty of these stories. Nothing is expected. Nothing is the same. From husbands who grow wings, to lion tamers that get eaten, to moments of extraordinary happiness that spurt to life here and there, Spark’s stories are dangerous, on-the-edge, comforting (strangely), and dream of a world that is possible. A world of freedom.

 

Faces on the Tip of My Tongue by Emmanuelle Pagano. Translated from the French by Sophie Lewis and Jennifer Higgins

Faces on the Tip of my Tongue by Emmanuelle Pagano Title: Faces on the Tip of my Tongue
Author: Emmanuelle Pagano
Translated from the French by Sophie Lewis and Jennifer Higgins
Publisher: Peirene Press
ISBN: 978-1908670540
Genre: Novella, Literary Fiction, Short Stories
Pages: 128
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

I am glad I reread it because of it being on the 2020 International Booker Longlist, and me being on the shadow panel. This is the first of the 13 that I have read (reread) and 12 more to go, but it has been such an enriching read – both in terms of content and style of writing.

“Faces on the Tip of My Tongue” by Emmanuelle Pagano is a collection of thirteen interlinked short stories set in France, across several decades. It is the third book in the publisher’s 2019 “There Be Monsters” series. As the stories progress, meanings become clearer, like a jigsaw puzzle it all starts making sense. Initially it did feel a little tiresome and maybe I was lost as well, but I am glad I persisted the first time around and even now.

The collection starts off with a story called, “The Lake’s Favourite” which sets the tone of the book. It is a story of an ideal childhood and how things then turn in the life of the narrator. Don’t be fooled by this story alone. The rest of the stories are nothing like this one. They are real, hard-hitting, and make you ponder long after.

One of my favourite stories is “Mum at the Park” – a snapshot of a child’s view about their reading parent and how she gets when she is at the park. How the city doesn’t suit her and so on and so forth. “The Loony and the Bright Spark” is about misfits in society and the ever-eternal question: What does one do with them? Does one do anything with them at all?

The recurring characters, their lives in different times is at the heart of this collection. Pagano’s writing is raw in most places, tender in some, with the sense of place being at the center of the book. The translation by Sophie Lewis and Jennifer Higgins never seems choppy throughout the book. There is a balance of sorts – that manages to capture the essence of time, place, and events in the most beautiful manner. Personally, I am rooting for this one to make it to the shortlist.