In Truth or Dare we follow, spell-bound, as chance encounters bring violent pasts roaring into the present; we wait on tenterhooks as a woman sits by her husband’s hospital bed as both their lives hang in the balance; we watch anxiously as a homeless man begs a woman with her life and career stretching ahead of her not to jump to her death.
In an early story in Shubha Sunder’s debut collection, Boomtown Girl, the narrator states that her parents felt her younger brother “was old enough to deserve some independence”, yet the teenage brother finds trouble and lands in jail. This theme of independence forms the backbone of the nine stories in her book that mainly take place in 1990s Bangalore. Sunder is a captivating storyteller and with each story she shows that independence sometimes comes with a price.
Dear Chrysanthemums: A Novel in Stories jumps from character to character, location to location, time period to time period. Two cooks working for Madame Chiang-Kai Shek. A dancer, exiled to Shanghai’s Wukang Mansion. Three women, gathering in a French cathedral, finding strength in each other decades after the protests in Tiananmen.
When development began in earnest in Beijing, migrants from around China flocked to the capital city for jobs of all sorts. There was money to be made and when young people did not pass their university entrance exams—or didn’t take them in the first place—they viewed Beijing as as good a place to make money as anywhere else in China. Xu Zechen sets his novel Beijing Sprawl in pre-Olympics Beijing on the outskirts of the city where four young men originally from a small town in Zhejiang province live and work.
In these ten stories, selected by translator Kavita Bhanot, Anjali Kajal examines the lives of women across two generations of, mainly, mothers and daughters, set in current-era Northern India. No one who has lived in the region will be surprised at the unfortunate incidents portrayed in these stories: harassment of females by men on the streets, in homes and in workplaces is “normal” and overlooked. Her stories, told in an unembellished style, and largely kept in the original cadence by the translator, are hard-hitting because they reflect daily real-life incidents and trends.
Fiona Sze-Lorrain, already an accomplished poet, translator, and zheng harpist, now has a debut novel, Dear Chrysanthemums: A Novel in Stories. What at first seem like stand-alone stories of generations of women searching for a sense of belonging in a new setting, be that in China, Singapore, France, or the United States have characters that overlap or a small detail like a song or a writer—which can be easy to miss—that carries over from one story to another.
Mai Nardone’s Welcome Me to the Kingdom opens with two migrants from Thailand’s northeast who travel to Bangkok to make a new life for themselves in the bustling city. As they enter, they pass under a sign, asking visitors to “Take Home a Thousand Smiles”. It’s an ironic start to their lives in Bangkok, as the two live an unstable, hardscrabble life on Bangkok’s fringes.