Anklet and Other Stories
Shome Dasgupta, a young American author of Bengali descent, uses magical realism to explore his South Asian roots in this series of fourteen stories mostly set in modern day Kolkata, the city his parents came from and the one where their extended families continue to live. The stories reflect the surrealistic dimensions of an American boy/man's visits "home." They engage with memorable individuals, from barristas to beggars, boatment to bus drivers. The disjunct between cultures provides a nexus out of which subtle symbols develop. Thus, "Tagore's Kiss" enacts the tension between India's strict courtship conventions and America's looser ones. Its protagonists deal with the human impulse to bend or break rules, much as Kolkata's favorite writer, Rabindranath Tagore, had done. "Samosa" invites readers into the eerily dissociative mind of a beggar. "Anklet" is a painfully beautiful story of dreams not quite articulated, not quite deferred. In "This Is My Head" we watch a family's awkward interaction with a deeply depressed uncle, who speaks gnomically: "I am crazy. Watch me corrode." Dasgupta's stories are compassionate, witty, and puzzling. How are we to react when an oddly intense man claims personal ties to American President Top Gun? When a badminton birdie turns out to be a real blackbird? When a simple hug makes a grieving clown's hair grow bright again? Dasgupta's symbolic coding is often exquisite. In "Empty Chair," the only story set firmly in the USA, one recognizes a trope familiar to Indian logicians and poets: "the presence of your absence" can be palpable.
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