In a story in Agnes Chew’s impressive debut collection, Eternal Summer of My Homeland, a Singaporean woman named Nadine gets to know a German man and speaks to him about love, mortality, and philosophy. Mortality seems to be a theme throughout the collection of stories about regular people in Singapore. There’s nothing Crazy Rich about them, which perhaps is why they place so much thought on the decisions they make.
At the end of Yiyun Li’s newest book, Wednesday’s Child, she explains that she wrote the stories in this collection—most of which originally appeared in The New Yorker—over the last fourteen years. It was also during this time that she lost her father, teenage son, mentor, and close friend. “They live among these pages now,” she explains.
The characters in Nishanth Injam’s The Best Possible Experience, his debut short story collection, are like many in India or in Indian communities in the United States: Working hard and enduring hardships to try to get a better life for themselves. They don’t always succeed—and even those that do lose something along the way.
In the opening story of Saras Manickam’s collection, My Mother Pattu, a sixteen year-old Tamil girl named Meena is sent from her home in Penang, Malaysia to live with an aunt and uncle in Mambang, an inland town halfway to Kuala Lumpur. Her crime: writing and receiving letters from a boy at school. This story, “Number One, Mambang Lane”, sets the tone for the collection with colorful Malaysian settings and characters that exemplify Malaysia’s diverse cultures, racial issues and all.
Jyotirmoyee Devi Sen (1894-1988), a pioneering Bengali feminist writer in the first part of the 20th century, is well-known for her novel Epar Ganga, Opar Ganga (The River Churning: A Partition Novel) and her short story collection Sona Rupa Noy (Not Gold and Silver) for which she received the prestigious Rabindra Puraskar, the highest honorary literary award in West Bengal, in 1973. Born in Jaipur, the present-day capital of Rajasthan in India, she spent her childhood in the princely state where her grandfather worked as dewan or prime minister to the maharaja of Jaipur.
In the story that provides the title of Nishanth Injam’s debut collection, The Best Possible Experience, a go-getter tour guide creates a new identity for himself and his son to seek opportunities that would otherwise be impossible for low-caste Dalits. Although Mr Lourenco the tour guide has a positive outlook, sometimes his plans don’t turn out as wished. This conflict between hope and reality is prevalent through all of Injam’s stories in the collection.
The tales in Ao Omae’s People Who Talk to Stuffed Animals Are Nice are about sensitive people trying to navigate an unjust world. Take Nanamori, the protagonist of the collection’s title story. The characters in “People Who Talk” are members of the university Plushie Club. Members justify the club to university officials as an organization that collects and crafts stuffed animals. In reality, they use the stuffies for a kind of informal talk therapy.