Her Mother’s Ashes and Other Stories by South Asian Women in Canada and the United StatesA short story collection edited by Nurjehan Aziz reviewed
Ever since I discovered TSAR Publications, I've followed their book publishing activities with anticipation and interest. This is a house that has slowly built its reputation and expanded its activities. And its work is important. This latest collection of short stories, like its other efforts is a largely satisfying blend of successes mingled with some disappointments.
As Arun Prabha Mukherjee points our in her excellent introductory essay, although 'South Asian' women are a diverse and disparate group, they do, however, possess many commonalities which make such a collection both meaningful and coherent. You don't have to be Parsee, say, to appreciate the difficulties of facing scheming parents with the awful revelation of a somewhat different sexual preference than the one they are eagerly pressing upon you. Nor do you have to be gay or lesbian. The particular guilt wrung by South Asian parents who sacrifice their all is pretty well universal throughout the sub-continent and its diaspora.
But even so, there is much to discover for readers of South Asian and other backgrounds in this collection. The only constraint has been the decision to include women who make their homes in English North America. This puts most of the writers into the very fascinating position of writing from the perspective of the outside—fertile ground for many of these stories. As such, they are often sad and fiercely angry. In Farida Karodia's Crossmatch a young actress from England balances her need for independence against a desire to protect her South African parents from the reality of her chosen lifestyle. And fails painfully. In Uma Parmeswaran's Freeze Frame a supportive feminist gathering in Winnipeg is disrupted by a young woman's ambivalence about the end of a marriage and the loss of a connection. Chitra Divakaruni writes about an American woman's frustration with her aunts' superstitions while on a pilgrimage to India. There is pain in these dislocations but there is also strength, drawn from within and from the past, as in the title story by Geetha Kothari.
There are some happier tales, like Bapsi Sidhwa's gentle satire on a visit to New York by a pair of newlyweds recently arrived in America. And Yasmin Ladha's Circum the Gesture is a rewarding, if more difficult experimental excursion.
Some of these stories are less successful, the writing less accomplished, the authors too self-consciously political to be really interesting. But they don't detract from the value of the collection.
And it is a valuable collection. Mukherjee's lucid essay (and story) is one of the real pleasures of the book. Likewise, Nurjehan Aziz's informative appendix describing the contributors is enormously helpful, making it worth flipping to the back as your read. The biographical information is brief but useful. What you will find is a collection of women who's accomplishments are impressive and who's literary activities invite further exploration.