Jenny Bhatt is a writer, literary translator, and book critic. She is the founder of Desi Books and teaches at Writing Workshops Dallas. Her collection, Each of Us Killers: Stories won a 2020 Foreword INDIES award in the Short Stories category and was a finalist in the Multicultural Adult Fiction category. Her literary translation, Ratno Dholi: The Best Stories of Dhumketu has been shortlisted for the 2021 PFC-VoW Book Awards for English Translation. She has written for venues like NPR, The Washington Post, Los Angeles Review of Books, Dallas Morning News, Literary Hub, and Poets & Writers. Having worked her way around India, England, Germany, Scotland, and various parts of the US, she now lives in Dallas, Texas. https://jennybhattwriter.com.
PositiveNPR\" At first glance, it may seem as if Busjeet is simply revisiting familiar tropes of coming of age and immigrant assimilation. Certainly, Silent Winds doesn\'t shy away from typical polarities: young versus old; tradition versus modernity; freedom versus repression; community versus individual. Yet, through the archetypal Vishnu, Busjeet charts the entire evolution of Mauritian society, grounded in its historical context, with sharp wit, poetic charm, and graceful insights ... Busjeet excels in vivid, tactile experiences and unforgettable Mauritian characters ... Small flaws mar the narrative: On occasion, Busjeet slips into a formal or archaic language register. The opening arc with the secret family revelation doesn\'t develop into anything much. And some of the women, though not stereotypical, could have been given more dimensions. Nevertheless, as an intelligent, witty, and compassionate rendering of a full and rich world, it is a much-needed addition to the small body of contemporary Mauritian literature (see French-to-English translations from writers like Ananda Devi and Nathacha Appanah.)
RaveNPR... we see that [Zakaria] is not on some earnest mission to educate the misinformed or enlighten the uninformed. This, as Tressie McMillan Cottom would say, ain\'t her row to hoe. Instead, Zakaria presents, calmly and methodically, plenty of well-researched evidence for why white feminism is messed up and why it must be dismantled ... Although such personal anecdotes are included throughout, Zakaria\'s aim is not to explore her own pain but to retrace the history of how white feminism has caused unending trauma through the centuries to many like her. What she wants is nothing less than transformational change that blows past tokenistic affirmative actions. The last chapter outlines four ways that white feminists need to change their mindset for this transformation to occur. These are not new suggestions but, given the state of things, they bear repeating ... White feminism isn\'t confined to the Western world; it has been exported and embedded all over the world. If the ongoing effects and implications of that haven\'t made you want to bare your fangs yet, this steely, incisive critique deserves your attention.
PositiveThe Star Tribune... a satirical and insightful sendup of startup culture ... The real story unfolding here is that of Asha\'s feminist awakening. Her evolving epiphanies are served up in an engagingly sarcastic and ironic voice with sharply observed details ... As empowering and welcome as this non-victimhood narrative sounds, there are some off-key notes. While the supporting characters, from Asha\'s Bangladeshi American family members to her Utopian family members, are effective foils during each milestone of Asha\'s journey, the latter sometimes succumb to well worn stereotypes. Thankfully, with the former, Anam doesn\'t dwell on tired South Asian family tropes other than to skillfully poke fun at them ... within the still-evolving South Asian diasporic literary traditions, this novel is a much-needed addition because it gives us the experiences of our cultures and communities here and now in ways that don\'t erase or exoticize but celebrate them.
PositiveNPRThis quiet, inward manner of processing the end of the war isn\'t simply a character trait. The words \'quiet,\' \'calm,\' \'silent\' or their various synonyms repeat on almost every page. Along with the lack of any direct dialogue, this creates an incantatory and meditative rhythm. It compels us to slow down and immerse ourselves with deep attention in the wordless moments between the characters. The prose is at its most moving here ... Whether it is Krishan getting intimate with Anjum on a night train to Mumbai, testing a male stranger\'s friendliness on the Delhi metro, or watching Rani staring at a soundless movie screen, Arudpragasam unpacks exactly how our inner circuitry is forever rewired during instances, war-driven or otherwise, that enable closeness or disconnection, that lead to absences or ruptures ... In the end, Krishan observes that death is the only closure. Conflicted about how he and the people in his life are coping with the residue of the war, he sees no other cure for those absences, memories, dreams, and desires. This is, of course, a western philosophical mindset rather than an eastern one, where death is seen not as a calamity but a necessary phase of life. If the novel strikes a false note, it is with this closing, which may be driven more by the author\'s Columbia doctorate in philosophy than his Sri Lankan protagonist\'s upbringing. While this may not have been the author\'s intention, it seems to diminish those who\'ve survived horrific wars and losses and soldiered on afterward ... Nevertheless, the novel is a tender elegy. Early in the story, when describing why he was compelled to research the war obsessively, Krishan says he had been \'trying to construct, through this act of imagination, a kind of private shrine to the memory of all those anonymous lives.\' A Passage North is a similar wholehearted and necessary act of preservation by its author.
RaveNPRLike blood blooming from that open wound, Victor\'s words spill onto page after page with an unstanchable urgency ... Victor\'s painfully vivid and sharp fragments of prose and poetry are loaded with kinesthetic and synesthetic images as well as multilingual alliterations and repetitions ... The carefully-constructed white spaces on Victor\'s pages are not merely aesthetic flourishes but much-needed pauses to allow the language, emotions, and thoughts to flow into us and pool in those places that 24/7 news and social media have left numb ... This book is not only for South Asians or immigrants. The treasure trove of metaphorical, literary, and cultural symbols and allusions goes beyond South Asia and America. Victor, a professor of creative writing and transnational poetry and poetics, brings together rich strands from other geographies, mythologies, and timespaces too. In doing so, she helps us all recontextualize, reconstruct, and recharge our own memories. Her goal is to have us interrogate what we remember, feel, think, and know about South Asia\'s place in the world, its immigrant diaspora, and the losses of these five men in particular ... Curb is more than a personal poetics of loss and identity. It is even more than a well-written eulogy of five murdered South Asian Americans. It is a profound act of poetic debridement for the South Asian American diaspora, and an insistent plea to resist erasure by first acknowledging, absorbing, processing, and remembering our own communal histories.
MixedThe Star TribunePriyanka Champaneri\'s debut novel, goes beyond revisiting the rituals involved in such dying. The main question being explored here is: What, indeed, is a \'good death\'? Is it really about liberation? Or is it simply a transformation of the body from one material form to another while the soul goes elsewhere? ... Stories are crammed within stories. Characters tell tales that are folklore, myth, reminiscences or dreams. All stories deeply alter their existence and relationships ... Champaneri\'s descriptive prose is precise and evocative. Aside from a few incongruous Western phrases and awkwardly translated terms, she does not exoticize or erase any relevant aspects of the sociocultural milieu. The classic cliffhanger at the end of almost every chapter isn\'t contrived but integral to the story and its arcs ... At times, the narrative pace gallops when it should amble and vice versa as the author tries to give most of the large cast of characters meaningful arcs.
PositiveThe Dallas Morning News...it is not the typical how-to writing guide. The closest comparison might be Francine Prose’s Reading Like a Writer from 2006. But while Prose focuses on close reading for craft techniques, Saunders aims for something larger: what stories do to us, how and why ... As Saunders takes us deep into the workings of each story, he explores what fiction can do for readers: how it can provide structures to expand and alter our thinking about our lives and worlds ... With each story, he gently encourages us to question our own biases and prejudices, imagine what the writer might have intended and consider other possible scenarios. He dives into existential and epistemological questions about how we understand and accept various versions of truth and joy and why we seek them in the first place ... Think of it like taking a walk around a favorite neighborhood, park or trail with a dear friend. You walk together, and this friend points out — with genuine delight and insight — the aspects that move and enliven them. The honesty, energy and earnestness are beyond infectious; they change your very relationship with these places so that you see them, with a fresh and clear vision, as vital to your very existence. You open up to let them shape your being and your way of thinking with a new curiosity and joy.
MixedThe Washington PostUpending the narrative of immigrants sweeping in to take jobs away from Americans, Thammavongsa highlights how it’s often immigrants who get exploited, their contributions ignored ... Almost every story seems to gear up toward some major summit, only to stop abruptly before the climb fully begins. This gives a sense of loose ends or unresolved finishes. But, as Graham Greene famously wrote, a short story is not so much about a start or an end as about \'that moment of experience from which to look back or from which to look ahead.\' Thammavongsa’s spare, unsentimental writing certainly frames those defining moments meaningfully ... The overall impression, however, is of a collection that aims to educate the white reader about how various inequalities play out for minorities rather than to render fully faceted immigrant experiences.
PositivePopMattersBy not giving any of his characters any names—they are simply \'the surgeon,\' \'the pharmacist,\' \'the teacher,\' \'the official\'—Paralkar has attempted, perhaps, to make his archetypes seem more universal ... While Paralkar mostly succeeds with the above, where he falters a bit is in his rendering of the tense connections between the characters during these defining moments of their existence ... The novel ends with an inevitability and predictability, which is, given the way the story begins and progresses, as satisfying as it should be ... Paralkar\'s ending, then, is also pitch perfect.
RaveNational Public RadioAll along, we get a carefully-constructed, running commentary in the margins with anecdotes and lists from the writer\'s own upbringing and relationships, and ideas about her politics and her craft. At times, the marginalia shapes the scaffolding of the main fictional story. But, just as often, it is a window into the parallel universe of the writer as she creates. There are also some segments of silence in these margins — spaces for the reader\'s imagination to interpret aspects of the main story. The points of divergence between the two stories are just as important as the points of convergence because of how they reflect the writer\'s inspirations, aspirations, and apprehensions. Text matters, subtext matters more, and what\'s not referenced or documented in the margins is also revelatory ...So, for Kandasamy, as a woman writer of color, taking on this avant-garde storytelling style is not simply a subversive statement. It is about laying claim to an intellectual space that is generally not allowed to writers like her. At times, she isn\'t able to fully scale the climb she has set out for herself with this slim volume. What matters most, however, is that Kandasamy has beautifully scaled an artistic summit often denied to writers like her. Her success is that we, as readers and reviewers, are drawn to deliberate the creative merits of her singular experiment rather than her personal life, even though it\'s been laid bare in these margins.
PositivePopMattersRosenbloom\'s prose is mostly conversational though she does veer to the lyrical when trying to convey the sensory details of a place or object. She transitions fluidly between narrative modes—memoir to reportage to travelogue to philosophical musing ... her enthusiasm and eagerness are like that of a friend warmly reliving their favorite moments from a recent life-changing trip. And her happiness with her serendipitous discoveries along the way is infectious ... One area the book could have explored more deeply is that of keeping people at a requisite distance during a solo trip. For travelers going it alone, meeting strangers and making new friends is always a tricky proposition ... Certainly, for those who would like to take up solo travel (note: truly alone and not as a part of those ever-growing \'solo travel\' groups), this is a helpful companion guide. Rosenbloom makes a compelling case for this subset of travelers, who might be on the fence about the benefits and safety of going it entirely alone ... What Rosenbloom ably demonstrates with this entire book is the old adage that a solitary person is not escaping the world but participating differently in it.
PositivePop MattersAlthough every story doesn\'t land with the same impact, each one challenges our notions of the often-idealized American past, present, and future. No matter what the struggle or hardship, almost every character resists in his or her own way ... There are some stories where the writers seem to have pulled their punches and missed important opportunities to push readers further out of our comfort zones ... Given the wide range of themes and narrative styles, A People\'s Future of the United States is clearly aimed at and should appeal to more than the usual fans of speculative or science fiction.
PositivePopMatters\"The most alive scenes in this book are the ones describing various father-daughter moments and interactions ... Indeed, the [memoir] has several poetic, even cinematic, scenes depicting what it\'s like to live by the water and what that does to the exteriors and interiors of both houses and people. Smyth\'s writing shimmers brightly in these scenes too ... Although Smyth\'s literary criticism of Woolf\'s novel doesn\'t yield new insights — particularly for loyal Woolf readers — this memoir certainly does justice to Joyce Carol Oates\' 2014 definition [establishing the writer\'s voice in counterpoint to the subject, with something more than adulation or explication at stake] ... Our sorrow itself also changes shape and texture over time. Smyth\'s book makes a brave attempt to portray all of this, including how her empathy and understanding for her widowed mother evolves after their shared loss.\
PositivePopMattersWhile the many research studies sometimes seem repetitive when belaboring the same points, the interspersed real-life examples from around the world are more engaging because of how Gelfand connects them back to study findings ... Of the many books about cultural anthropology or social theory emerging these days, few manage to cohere to a strong, compelling thesis throughout ... Fewer still manage to address all the major concerns of our increasingly complex societies today. Gelfand has checked both those boxes and she has done it with just the right number...of supporting practical, pragmatic examples ... engaging with this book is time well invested[.]
PositivePop MattersSame book (with just a few changes), same writer ... the collection is Roxane Gay\'s debut book-length work, Ayiti. Comprising of 15 short stories, including flash fiction and some essayistic pieces ... It\'s one of those weird neuroses of the literary world where a mediocre novel with boring bits, caricatures for characters, flimsy sub-plots, etc., will get published easily because there are \'moments of brilliance\' or the subject matter is \'on trend\'. But a short story collection, where almost every story has probably undergone a rigorous review process with literary magazine editors — as is the case here — is held to a different standard.
PositivePopMattersThe narrative stretches from the 1940s to the 2000s and from the South Asian subcontinent to the US ... Going back and forth skillfully across those three major events, the storytelling adds more connecting dots each time to the various characters ... This non-linearity creates excellent pace and tension, which Anwar never loses by revealing details only when absolutely necessary ... Specifically with the Japanese occupation of Burma, Anwar\'s attention to detail shows the thoroughness of his research. Using the boat and the storm as recurring symbols is also a nice touch. That said, beyond that, the language throughout is not descriptive enough for the richness of the settings and events being depicted ... In the end, The Storm is a first novel that, despite some inexplicable gaps and pat coincidences, must be applauded for its heart, urgency, and ambition.
A. M. Homes
PositivePopmattersEach story here could well be a masterclass in the art of writing dialogue as Homes employs it throughout to do much more than reveal character or move the story along. For non-writers, these stories show how to listen closely in our everyday conversations to what is said and, more importantly, what isn\'t said. In our time, when so much communication happens online and asynchronously, preserving and evolving the art of two-way communication feels even more critical. Real-time dialogue, in the end, is about a give-and-take between two people; it\'s an exchange of not just ideas but also emotions; it\'s a crucial skill in every walk of life and one that we never stop developing ... She drops us into the middle of the ongoing life journeys of her characters at seemingly ordinary moments which then unfold in rather unexpected ways. The element of surprise here is not so much an added twist as a derailment—all done with Homes\' signature knowing winks and sly nudges. Sometimes, you can see the devastation coming even as you are transfixed and rooted in your window-seat. And, sometimes, a story takes a sharp corner so quickly, you could never have seen it coming ... That said, there are occasions when the near-constant dialogue is clip-clopping along so rapidly—one-liner after one-liner, quip after quip — that it highlights the absence of and need for narrative. Three stories, particularly, could probably have used a few more narrative sections for intermittent relief and, frankly, to develop their plots more substantively: \'All Is Good Except for the Rain\'; \'The Last Good Time\'; and \'Be Mine.\'
MixedPopMatters\"Kumarasamy gives us the painful fragments of these characters\' experiences with care, as if she is handing us shards of broken glass. Her language is specific and precise in showing how they respond to their worlds like wounded animals whose ancient, primal fears are triggered easily beyond their own comprehension. There are some startling and fresh metaphors and similes (e.g., \'he would lift his belly like a dress.\') Scenes and settings are drawn with close, attentive brushstrokes. Relevant historical facts about Sri Lanka\'s long, bloody civil war are woven into plots and subplots thoughtfully ... And yet, there\'s something about these stories that doesn\'t come together with the potency that, given the subject matter, one might expect ... Overall, there\'s an expectation for an interlinked short story collection to add up to something greater than the sum of its parts. Here, it almost seems as if Kumarasamy might have attempted to write a novel or a different form of fiction to begin with, and then taken the pieces from that unsuccessful effort and brought them together as a short story collection.\
RavePopMatters\"With travel pieces, literary critiques, people profiles, and personal essays, the 30 pieces here cover a wide range of subjects and are, together, his most polished collection yet. They give us everything we have come to expect from Theroux in his nonfiction: the attentive traveler\'s sharp eye and canny ear for everything that goes on around him and, to a certain extent, what goes on in his mind as he engages fully with life and everything that comes at him. Whether he\'s being seriously earnest or ironically satirical, Theroux\'s prose manages to hit just the right notes so that, at the end of any particular essay, even if we might not be in agreement, we want him to continue on ... At his finest, Theroux presents keen observations with language so alive that we are not merely transported but also transformed through the reading. At his worst, his misanthropic bite leaves sharply-aimed marks on the people, places, and experiences he resents, making us as readers also recoil ... Theroux gives us both literary style and new ways of seeing the world — not necessarily as it is, but as he sees it, of course.\
RavePopMatters\"There are ten stories in this collection. The recurring themes of loneliness, death, betrayal, delusion, and loss might make them sound rather bleak but his spare prose and concise narratives avoid melodrama or repetition. All the main characters struggle with and never conquer their yearnings, which are challenged or thwarted through singular moments of quiet drama. And, despite there being no radical or titillating action, what lingers in the reader\'s mind long after reading feels like reverberations of aftershocks ... With endings, an abiding hallmark of a Trevor story is how he opens up various possibilities for a character\'s arc early on and yet, when the ending arrives, it is satisfyingly inevitable. That said, some of the endings in this collection are left vague, almost framed as potential new beginnings for the next momentous life event that readers can contemplate what-ifs about ... There are many such earned rewards from a slow, close reading of a Trevor story. This is why he is a writer\'s writer. Each of his stories can reveal clever tricks of the trade. Each can be a mini masterclass in the art of the form because he compels us to slow down, stop, and observe carefully the quotidian, everyday moments that we mostly rush past in real life.\
Dunya Mikhail, Trans. by Max Weiss
PositivePopMattersStructurally, this book is a mix of reportage, memoir, and poetry. Mikhail keeps the reportage free from sentiment. Even the memoir sections about her own past experiences in Iraq are relayed from a somewhat cool distance. But her verses show her personal emotional landscape as she tries to wrap her head around what is happening, what might come next for each survivor, and what survival even means \'when the calamity survives along with you\' ... A book like this reminds us of this hard truth about the worst aspects of human nature.
PositivePopMattersSittenfeld\'s stylistic prose is always wryly satirical in its observations of the many facets of human nature. Overall, her fiction has specialized in a particular milieu: the educated, urban, middle-class, Midwestern white woman ... The women in these stories are not necessarily likable but they are honest about their inabilities to let the past remain in the past ... This is definitely much-needed in contemporary literature where the middle-aged woman is still not being explored as a fully-realized and complicated individual with her own needs and desires.
RavePopMatters\"Miller\'s Circe is not exactly the entire Odyssey retold through a new point of view. The novel is indeed a response to the myth of Odysseus because, through Circe, we see the hero very differently. This is definitely Circe\'s story — one that has had various conflicting versions over time — with the Odyssey as the backdrop, or the side-show ... One might go so far as to say that Miller has aimed to also highlight the complex, cumulative ways that different forms of discrimination between different groups combine, overlap, and intersect. If only, along the way, she had attempted some new twists to the traditional male versus female dynamic ... In the end, what\'s most interesting about Circe is that the recreation of the various Odyssey myths throughout is a kind of subversion of the above \'perennial philosophy\' ... So the final, radical decision — which is not among the more commonly known endings of the various versions of Circe\'s story — is wholly fitting and satisfying, given her own psychological transformation.\
Tatyana Tolstaya, Trans. by Anya Migdal
PositivePopMatters\"What makes this collection of short stories different is how these stories merge commentary on the past and the present through a variety of styles and forms: auto-fiction, essayistic pieces, and allegorical tales. Due to this, they may not be to every reader\'s tastes. Yet many themes are deeply investigated: identity, living, dying, loss, loneliness, politics, love, dislocation, the Russian psyche, and more. If further unity is sought, it can be found only in the authorial voice ... Given the wide-ranging prose forms and styles of this collection, Midgal has pulled off a highly admirable feat in maintaining the integrity and rhythm of the author\'s voice.\
MixedPop MattersOverall, Sachdeva\'s openings are not always strong but almost all her endings artfully leave space for the reader\'s mind to linger, wonder, and imagine what might happen next. She\'s at her best when describing a protagonist\'s close encounters with the mystical and in near-otherworldly settings ... Still, those pivotal moments could have been richer, could have transported readers more intensely into those spaces/worlds if the language/sentences had been more enthralling, more spellbinding. It seems as if the writer restrained herself and, consequently, her characters. In fact, some of the stories are even reminiscent of Aimee Bender\'s and Kelly Link\'s excellent speculative works, but not entirely as captivating.
RaveThe National Book ReviewWith this book, Ijeoma Oluo gives us — both white people and people of color — that language to engage in clear, constructive, and confident dialogue with each other about how to deal with racial prejudices and biases. And this dialogue is critical ... Each chapter is framed as a question which Oluo unpacks thoroughly and rationally. These are questions that typically come up in daily interactions, whether they are raised explicitly, implicitly, or only in our heads ... She does not shy away from raising discussion points that might make some uncomfortable. There is no ambivalence or soft-pedaling. These talks are difficult, requiring introspection, empathy, and a voluntary rewiring of our brains if we are to make any progress ... That said, this book is much-needed and timely. It is more than a primer on racism. It is a comprehensive conversation guide.
RavePop MattersWith this memoir, Shoba Narayan's integrity of intention shines through so clearly and beautifully that it's all too easy to take this journey with her ... there is, unfortunately, not enough deep-diving into the darker aspects of the cow's role in India's murderous identity politics today ... Narayan's skill at braiding different threads together renders a smooth storytelling approach. Her anecdotes, whether funny or serious, are never rambling or tangential ... Her raconteuring language is like that of an old friend — warm and nourishing even when recounting the unpleasant.