Jenny BhattJennyBhatt is a writer, literary translator, and book reviewer. She is a Contributing Editor (Books) at PopMatters and has also written for The Atlantic, BBC Culture, and National Book Review. Her short stories have been published in literary journals in the UK and the US. Her first literary translation will be out in 2019 with Harper Collins India and she is looking for a home for her short story collection. Having lived and worked her way around India, England, Germany, Scotland, and various parts of the US, she currently splits her time between Georgia, US, and Gujarat, India. Find her here and on Twitter @jennybhatt.
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.
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.