Sidharth Vardhan

Mouthful of Birds – a review

(A review of ‘Mouthful of Birds’,a collection of short stories by Samantha Schweblin long-listed for International Booker in 2019 for English translation by Megan McDowell) Most of these short stories have a sort of nightmarish qualities about them, much like another Intentional Booker nominee from author, Fever Dreams (but ‘Fever Dreams’ had a far better execution IMO and, to be honest, should have won International Booker that year). Sometimes the nightmarish quality is due to environment or because of the perspective of a child narrator while others really have a somewhat Kafka-like dream-realism (unpredictable sequence of surreal events) with an which is the thing I enjoy most about this author. The unease one feels during a nightmare is common to the narrators of all the good stories in here. ‘Headlights’, ‘Butterflies’, ‘Preserves”, ‘toward the civilisation’ etc are some of the best ones. There a few less enjoyable stories (the titular story, incidentally, was one of those I enjoyed less), but the 5-star ones are too difficult to ignore. A bad sample, bad not because it is a bad story, but because it doesn’t have this nightmarish quality, can be read here.

Of Fever Dreams

(Fever Dreams by Samanta Schweblin English translation by Megan McDowell  was long listed for International Booker in 2017First written on August 13, 2017) The harmful effects of pesticides – a theme that might not be obvious to an urban reader of the book (the characters themselves seemed to not know about them) is the unnamed curse of the town. However, as with the treatment of psychopath theme in ‘Room’, the much louder theme just serves as a background for theme of how strong a mother’s love is. You know how homo-sapiens, especially females, keep on sentimentalizing over their parental investment and all that. Now comes the best part though – and it is the fact that the things occur, or rather are being remembered as if they occur in dream – Nah, a nightmare. For the most part, it makes most logical sense – Amanda, the protagonist, is dreaming while lying on her deathbed (hence the title) – there are some things towards the end that Amanda couldn’t have known but then she might still be dreaming – the whole unreliable narrator thing. It is how brilliantly this dream reality has been created which gets the book 5 stars. Nabokov

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