Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Out Of Place, Again


To an audience weaned on the immigrant fictions of Jhumpa Lahiri, Tanuja Hidier and Bharati Mukherjee, among others, Rishi Reddi’s debut short story collection will be welcome. These are yet more tales of square pegs in round holes, of the friction of fitting in.

Primarily drawn from the Indian American community of Massachusetts, most of Rishi Reddi’s characters face the double bind of detaching themselves from the way things used to be in their homeland, and coming to terms with the fact that their compatriots have made better adjustments to the American way of life. There’s the irascible, retired judge of ‘Justice Shiva Ram Murthy’, the lonely, compassionate housewife of ‘Lakshmi and the Librarian’ and the dreamy, unemployed Shankar of the title story, for example. Apart from an interesting use of the unreliable narrator in the first tale, Reddi also proves adept in creating connections between the outside world and the inner lives of her characters – the bonsai trees, melting snows and injured birds are evocative symbols.

There’s no denying that hers is a perceptive new voice, but the themes of her stories – arranged marriages, strained disaporic family ties, the strangeness of India after living abroad -- suffer from overexposure. A pity, given the author’s evident devotion to her characters and craft.

Worth your while? Well-written and well-crafted, but will bring about an acute sense of déjà vu because of all the other recent immigrant sagas, in film or print.

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