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She Writes, an anthology of twelve stories by women writers in India, is marred by uneven writing, but has to its credit some unusual storylines.
Review by Aparna V. Singh
She Writes, a collection of short stories by twelve women, is an anthology that has come about as the result of a short story writing contest organized by publishers Random House with the MSN website in 2012.
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The contest is described as having been conducted to “hunt for twelve of India’s finest women writers.” While She Writes does not quite live up to that objective, it does bring us some unusual stories, many of them revolving around the lives of women in India.
The first story in the collection, Anisha Bhaduri’s Other People’s Lives, sets the tone for the rest, with almost all of them being narrated by an omniscient narrator peering into other people’s lives. This story is interesting for the way it sets up the reader to expect a Jhumpa Lahiri style narrative, but neatly reverses it to give us not the immigrant’s perspective, but that of the ones who ‘could not get away’.
One of the biggest challenges of any anthology editor must be to ensure that the stories are evenly matched in terms of the writing quality, and when you have to work with the entries that have come in through a contest, perhaps the editor has a tougher task at hand. This is evident in She Writes, which has some very insightful work interspersed with some jerky writing and banal storylines that allows the reader no suspension of disbelief.
Take for instance Amrita Saikia’s A Tale Of Destiny. A beautiful heroine from a small town, academically oriented, career focused, morphs into the married woman dressing up and waiting for the husband to come home, with nothing to tell us how this transformation came about. What is worse, the dreamboat husband, one Alok Dasgupta, has deep blue eyes. Surely the writer could not expect us to believe in an Indian man with those eyes? A small point, but this stock character effectively removed any interest I had in the already hyper-dramatic narrative.
Luckily, some of the stories have been crafted with more affection for the characters. The best ones, like Chitralekha’s Conundrum and Sheela Jaywant’s Yokemates take us into lives that seem rather ordinary on the surface, and yet reveal the ripples underneath. A friendship between two elderly chawl-dwelling Maharashtrian ladies sets the reader up to expect a ‘homely’ narrative, and then chips away at it very cleverly to give us something unexpected. Interestingly, the characters in these are not your typical urban, middle class protagonists.
Some writers, while using the omniscient narrator, have still tried to experiment with style, as Aprameya Manthena does, attempting magic realism in her Revelations. The attempt is not entirely successful, but makes for some variation in the anthology.
While far from the best short story writing one could find in India, She Writes makes for some interesting reading – especially for those tired of the teenage angst and chic-lit being churned out in the name of popular literature in India.
Publishers: Random House India.
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Founder, Editor of Women's Web, Aparna believes in the power of ideas and conversations
Dear Miss Reviewer…what a pity….Before criticizing the stories perhaps you should have read them more carefully with a bit of imagination….Your frustration for not being in the winners’ list is quite evident the way you have criticized A.Saikia’s story and imagination.
Is a blue eyed man or women is only typical of Europe or America? What about the concept of mixed parents? My granny is a British who owns a tea estate in Assam and we have ancestors from both the sides.
I wish you good luck and may god help you to gain more understanding about this world that you need to know more about!
Come out of your own tiny world, explore and broaden up your thoughts……Instead of criticizing others works first utilize your time in doing something productive for this country where we still have people struggling for their daily lives……grow up!!!
You claim to be a feminist…What is feminism according to you? What are some of the theories of feminism?How do you apply them in real world situations?
I found your comments most amusing, Simantika. A book that is out in the public domain is open to criticism, never mind if the reviewer has “done something productive for this country”. Why does my criticising Amrita Saikia’s story bother you so much that you feel the need for a personal attack? I think that is the question you need to ask yourself. Also, factually, blue eyes are indeed peculiar to European countries and ancestry. If an Indian man has blue eyes, it is very much an exception, and one would imagine that a writer would explain that.
Dear reviewer, this is not to advocate any particular author’s story…but when you criticize somebody the points have to be convincing….For instance, take your criticism on Anisha Bhaduri’s story which is excellent and the narrative is really very good! Aprameya’s story is unique in its own way….The Tourist & The Boston Brahmin are some of the best stories in the book….The Protagonist was not a heroine… This is definitely your personal opinion and nobody would have problems with it…but read the stories deeply before jumping into any conclusion….If this is a public domain this sort of comments misguide readers…
Simantika, what makes you think I haven’t read “deeply”? Just because you do not agree with my criticism of something does not mean I haven’t thought it through. If the points don’t convince you, fair enough – you can always mention why you think it is not convincing. There is always space for multiple opinions. But to adopt a high-handed tone, talk down to me, call me frustrated because my entry didn’t win (and I didn’t send in one!) and to say that my world is narrow simply because you don’t agree with my review is stooping to a unwarranted personal attack.
Dear reviewer….Little knowledge is a dangerous thing…..
Dear “Anana”, posting under different names is a dangerous thing when we can easily see your IP address at the back end. And that will be the last response from me since you are playing a game of oneupmanship here. Enjoy yourself!
dear reviewer…it’s good to review a book and it helps authors to improve and live up to the expectations of readers like us….but let us be honest….we should not use languages which is not intended by the writers in the book….there is nothing personal….just a little advice
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