People from Bloomington is, true to its name, a collection of stories about various people in the American Midwest—in the university town of Bloomington, Indiana to be precise—set in the late 1970s. As examples of the craft of short story writing, these will do nicely: each is well-constructed and plotted, with distinctive characterization and more than enough tension to get the reader through to the end.

Saadat Hasan Manto is a writer the South Asian reviewer or commentator attempts with trepidation. Usually approached in anthologies of Partition literature where the brutality and violence of being human are expected, there is temptation to wash one hands of him by reading Toba Tek Singh, his most well-known story about the exchange of inmates of mental asylums between the newly independent India and Pakistan and thereby, along with maybe a couple more, tick the box. 

My Pen Is the Wing of a Bird came about through the efforts of Untold Narratives, a UK-based organization which works to develop and amplify the work of writers marginalized by social, geopolitical or economic isolation, particularly those in areas with recent or ongoing conflict. In 2019 and early 2021, Untold put out open calls across Afghanistan, asking women to submit short stories in either of the country’s two languages, Dari and Pashto. 

It’s a rare collection of short stories works as well as Reshma Ruia’s Mrs Pinto Drives to Happiness: each of her stories is captivating without any that seem weaker than the others. The characters come from a variety of countries and continents, although most are of Indian descent. The overarching theme in these stories is a sense of missed or lost opportunity, beginning with the story for which the collection is named.