White Dancing Elephants
DescriptionBest Books of 2018 Kirkus Reviews (debut and short fiction categories)
Best Books of 2018, Entropy Magazine
A Book Club selection for The Wing, Rebel Women's Lit and Bookish.com
35 over 35 Debut Fiction Award
Finalist for the 2019 PEN American Robert Bingham Prize for Debut Short Story CollectionChaya Bhuvaneswar's debut collection maps with great assurance the intricate outer reaches of the human heart. What a bold, smart, exciting new voice, well worth listening to; what an elegant story collection to read and savor.
-Lauren Groff, author of Florida Stunning, evocative, electric...an exuberant collection.
-Kirkus Reviews (starred) A woman grieves a miscarriage, haunted by the Buddha's birth. An artist with schizophrenia tries to survive hatred and indifference in small-town India by turning to the beauty of sculpture and dance. Orphans in India get pulled into a strange "rescue" mission aimed at stripping their mysterious powers. A brief but intense affair between two women culminates in regret and betrayal. A boy seeks memories of his sister in the legend of a woman who weds death. And fragments of history, from child brickmakers to slaves in Renaissance Portugal, are held up in brief fictions, burnished, made dazzling and unforgettable. In seventeen remarkable stories, Chaya Bhuvaneswar spotlights diverse women of color--cunning, bold, and resolute--facing sexual harassment and racial violence, and occasionally inflicting that violence on each other. Winner of the 2017 Dzanc Short Story Collection Prize, White Dancing Elephants marks the emergence of a new and original voice in fiction and explores feminist, queer, religious, and immigrant stories with precision, drama, and compassion.
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About the Author
Chaya Bhuvaneswar is a practicing physician and writer whose work has appeared or is forthcoming in Narrative magazine, Electric Literature, the Rumpus, and elsewhere, with poetry in Indolent Books/ What Rough Beast, Quiddity, Natural Bridge, Ithaca Lit, apt magazine, and Hobart. She is a MacDowell Colony fellow and received scholarships to the Muse & Marketplace and Squaw Valley Writers Workshop. Her work has received several Pushcart Prize anthology nominations.
Named a Best Book by:
Elle, Entertainment Weekly, Kirkus (Fall Most Anticipated Books), Literary Hub, Huffington Post, Buzzfeed, Harper's Bazaar, Southern Living, Vulture, The Millions, New York Post, The Rumpus, Washington Independent Review of Books, Book Riot, Book Reporter, NPR, My Domaine, Culture Trip, Urban Daddy, Bustle, Bookish, Entropy, and San Francisco ChroniclePEN/Bingham Debut Short Fiction Award finalist A 35 over 35 Honoree for 2018 "Bhuvaneswar's debut story collection, already eliciting praise from the likes of Lauren Groff and Jeff VanderMeer, explores urgent themes of sexual harassment and racial violence through a poetic lens, exploring a cast of marginalized characters and infusing them with bracing life."
--Entertainment Weekly "Chaya Bhuvaneswar proves to be an evocative new voice in feminist fiction...The stories are really brilliant. They're breathtaking in a way that forces me to pause between each one and just sit with the endings for a bit."
--Elle "(T)he biggest surprise in White Dancing Elephants is its core of hope and compassion. From two women having an affair that puts them in danger, to a slave in Renaissance Portugal who learns that sacrifice is sometimes the only way to save what we love, this collection is full of anguish, yet packed with optimism and courage. Bhuvaneswar is unflinching about the lives of those for whom identity is a constant battle and the act of being is an unavoidable challenge, but she doesn't ignore the beauty in their strength...White Dancing Elephants is a necessary book -- and one that introduces a gifted voice to contemporary literature."
--National Public Radio (NPR) "[A] pleasingly devious streak, at times reminiscent of Patricia Highsmith, winds through the collection, offsetting the latent melodrama. Shocking late twists and disclosures furnish a sense of unpredictability ... [A] compulsively readable debut."
--Sam Sacks, Wall Street Journal "How free is anyone, driven as we are by impulses deeper than thought, moving through inextricably connected societies? This debut author has created a host of original scenarios through which to probe this vital question--a question that's both a long-running conversation between East and West and one of the intractable problems of the human condition."
--Los Angeles Times "Chaya Bhuvaneswar is a *force* in her provocative debut short story collection White Dancing Elephants. These stories center on women of color who resist easy categorization -- a therapist who is drawn to but disgusted by her young patient, a scholar desperate to justify her affair with her terminally ill best friend's husband, a woman remembering the girlfriend she abandoned when she accepted her arranged marriage. Bhuvaneswar fully inhabits them, breathing life into their dissonant, beautiful, complete selves. Reading it is a thrill, sure to leave you breathless."
--Buzzfeed "Chaya Bhuvaneswar's debut collection maps with great assurance the intricate outer reaches of the human heart. What a bold, smart, exciting new voice, well worth listening to; what an elegant story collection to read and savor..."
--Lauren Groff, author of Florida "In this evocative debut short-story collection, Bhuvaneswar pulls readers deep into the psyches of women who are vulnerable and lost, dangerous and clever: a woman clinging to denial over her miscarriage, an artist with schizophrenia, two women in a doomed love affair."
--Huffington Post "Consider Bhuvaneswar one of the most original feminist voices in literature--you need to add this short story collection to your cart stat."
--My Domaine "You can't miss this bold debut short story collection, which spotlights queer, religious, and immigrant stories about a diverse array of women all over the world. From a South Asian scholar trying to justify her affair with her terminally ill best friend's husband, to a woman who is haunted by Buddha's birth as she grieves a miscarriage, each one of these stories will reach deep into your heart."
--Bustle (Best 11 Books of October) "Read White Dancing Elephants. Short stories, enduring issues. Women both endure violence and wield it against one another in Chaya Bhuvaneswar's debut collection of 17 stories about sexual harassment, a therapist obsessed with her new client, mourning a miscarriage, and more."
--Vulture (Best books chosen by Novelists; Best Fall Books; What to do Sept 30-Oct 15) "Debut Winner of the Dzanc Books Short Story Collection Prize, this volume proves its worth from the start with an affecting piece about a woman wandering about London, having just lost the baby she was carrying. From exploited orphans in India and slaves in Renaissance Portugal to Jagatishwaran ("lord of worlds"), trapped in a corner room by mental illness and parental concern but looking outward, and a young boy wondering of his vanished sister "Where did go? But also: How do I bear it, that she left for good?" even as he reads the fable of a woman bargaining with Death over the husband he sent her, imagination is key. Yet the stories remain firmly grounded in physical detail, boldly exploring moments of oppression and violence, and Bhuvaneswar's persuasive, readable style will keep readers absorbed. VERDICT A strong collection from a writer on the rise."
--Library Journal "Bhuvaneswar's compelling stories portray diverse characters grappling with shifts in their lives, the complications of their actions, and the impacts of others...a striking collection."
--Booklist "This award-winning debut boasts virtuoso range and depth. Bhuvaneswar has the mastery of Jhumpa Lahiri and the lyricism of Sandra Cisneros. But the collection also has the bits of quiet joy and mischief reminiscent of Isaac Babel, along with an ability to embrace silent absence, as in Peter Orner's fiction."
- Washington Independent Review of Books "White Dancing Elephants charms its readers into different worlds--with no small help from unexpected twists and robust endings."
-Barrelhouse "Chaya's stories are dark, weird, often funny, the characters and lifestyles acutely observed, her language sharp as an arrow."
- Apojee Journal "Similar to Zadie Smith's work in the richness of the writing, the way that entire lives are portrayed within the pages of a short story."
-Drunken Books podcast "The issues in these stories--exploitation, violence, abuse--are not the aberration in our world, but the norm for many, and I am thankful for how Bhuvaneswar approaches them. The women in these stories feel so real to me. The writing is gorgeous, the characters so human, the sense of magic palpable. Highly recommend."
-Rene Denfeld, author of The Child Finder "[These are stories of] intricate characters who fight back against narratives that limit their existence, natural circumstances or human-made, from birth and death and disease to racism, classicism, and sexism, shuffling together ancient fables with realistic contemporary fiction and a dystopia with robots."
--The Millions "Whether she's writing about characters grappling with their own mortality and that of the people closest to them or veering into more fantastical realms, Bhuvaneswar roots her work in recognizable (and often wrenching) emotion, making for powerful and compelling fiction."
-Vol 1. Brooklyn "Bhuvaneswar tackles the intricate interactions of race, class, and sexuality in this enticing debut... The political charge of each relationship is reinforced by Bhuvaneswar's articulation of the simmering drama created by them...The collection is sharp and provocative, and Bhuvaneswar's voice rings true."
--Publishers Weekly "The 17 stories in this debut collection take place around the world, exploring queer and interracial love, extramarital affairs, and grief over the disappearances of loved ones. The book provocatively probes the aftermath--the aftermath of death, of grim diagnoses, of abandonment, of monumental errors in judgment. Passages jump back and forth in time to dissect how the consequences of a fraught event shape and unravel the lives of innocent casualties....An exuberant collection."
--Kirkus Reviews (*STARRED REVIEW*) "A magnificent collection of stories that defy conventions, stereotypes, and reveal the universal complexity we all share as humans--gifted and flawed individuals, who struggle to reconcile the mixed signals of our own hearts."
--Jamie Ford, author of Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet "Filled with dark music, nuance, and intelligence, White Dancing Elephants takes readers on a thrilling journey. In sharp takes, Chaya Bhuvaneswar unfolds the complexities of race and gender, tragedy and eros. This unforgettable collection will hold its readers captive to the very last page."
--Diana Abu-Jaber, author of Life Without a Recipe and Crescent "The stories in White Dancing Elephants show impressive dexterity and range.The prose can be rich and intricate one moment, then shifts registers into sharp humor; the characterization is many-dimensional."
--Peter Rock, author of My Abandonment "Chaya Bhuvaneswar's deft and poignant stories bring the whole damned world into clearer focus. A pure pleasure to read, White Dancing Elephants is a remarkable book that will stay with me for a long time."
--Skip Horack, author of The Other Joseph and The Southern Cross "Chaya Bhuvaneswar's stories reveal a rare sensitivity to the strange and complicated acrobatics of the human heart. These are astonishing, urgent portraits of people trying to see the world for what it is and what it might be."
--Emily Geminder, author of Dead Girls and Other Stories "White Dancing Elephants dazzles from the start. There are so many wonderful stories in this collection that center on female characters of color in all sorts of situations. Readers are treated to deep characters, mesmerizing language, and a story that propels forward across a city and the landscape of a mind effortlessly. This is a new gifted voice in contemporary literature and we are so lucky to have it!"
--Victoria Chang, author of Barbie Chang "White Dancing Elephants is a searing and complex collection, wholly realized, each piece curled around its own beating heart. Tender and incisive, Chaya Bhuvaneswar is a surgeon on the page; unflinching in her aim, unwavering in her gaze, and absolutely devastating in her prose. This is an astonishing debut."
--Amelia Gray, author of Isadora "Deft and timely stories of women in Chaya Bhuvaneswar's debut title...Bhuvaneswar is sure-handed as her stories toggle boldly between form. She is as deft at building tension in the ultimately explosive 'A Shaker Chair, ' about the fraught relationship between a psychiatrist and her patient, as she is at building a sort of hypnotic world in the quietly affecting 'Jagatishwaran.'"
--San Francisco Chronicle "Reading Chaya Bhuvaneswar is like receiving Lasik via literature--the world you return to is a little clearer and sharper for the time you've spent in her pages. She is a formidable talent, formally accomplished and intellectually alive."
--Anthony Marra, author of A Constellation of Vital Phenomena "Bhuvaneswar's daring mix of ancient, contemporary, and dystopic stories carries us to the heart of rarely exposed longing, loss, and the politics of violence and endurance in remarkable, elegant, heart-stopping prose."
--Jimin Han, author of A Small Revolution "(An) enthralling, vivid debut collection from writer and physician Chaya Bhuvaneswar. The stories span centuries, from Renaissance Portugal to present-day India, and provide powerful glimpses into experiences of grief, violence, and betrayal."
--Southern Living "A collection of gripping short stories featuring a diverse range of women of color, in tales that are clever and thought-provoking."
--New York Post (Required Reading: The Best Books of the Week) "Sometimes funny, always smart and honest, Chaya Bhuvaneswar's stories hold the reader, even as the painful truths of human lives break through."
--New York Journal of Books "A bold, honest, often provocative first collection from a fresh new voice."
--Jeff VanderMeer, author of Annihilation "From the first page, I was swept away by the riveting undertow of Chaya Bhuvaneswar's inventive and spellbinding stories, each moment cast in powerfully intelligent prose. White Dancing Elephants is a remarkable debut; we are so lucky to hold this book in our hands."
-Laura van den Berg, author of The Third Hotel "If your book club is interested in picking up a book of short stories this month, we suggest White Dancing Elephants by Chaya Bhuvaneswar. Racial identity plays a large role in these stories, as does socioeconomic class, meaning your book club will have lots of thought-provoking material to discuss. In one story, a therapist experiences conflicted feelings about one of her clients, an Indian woman, and grapples with that. In another, a woman sleeps with the husband of her dying best friend, and becomes pregnant with his child. These tales span the globe from India to Portugal, and feature characters from many different walks of life interacting with one another. The result is an engaging collection we know you'll enjoy."
--Bookish "White Dancing Elephants, the debut short story collection from Chaya Bhuvaneswar, is a rich and lovely look at the diversity of love --- romantic, familial and love of self. Run through with threads of the mythic and with more than a nod to Indian literary and religious images, the stories here are still very realistic, exploring relationships, interior lives and expectations. Bhuvaneswar's characters, mostly women, struggle against social norms, cultural rules, and their desires and better judgements."
--Book Reporter "Can't miss story collection...deserving prime placement on your shelf!"
--Harper's Bazaar "In White Dancing Elephants, Chaya Bhuvaneswar makes the #MeToo stories of women of color sing. Her lyrical prose is pure poetry."