(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.
(A review of the short story’Aleph’ by Jorge Luis BorgesFirst written on January 17, 2016) “All language is a set of symbols whose use among its speakers assumes a shared past.” Jorge Luis Borges (Aleph) …. and so there must be things beyond describing powers of language. What if some day you were to come across a thing or an experience who is nothing like shared past? The human impulse to communicate must find a let out, and where mere words are not enough we need poetry: Daneri’s real work lay not in the poetry but in his invention of reasons why the poetry should be admired. Jorge Luis Borges (Aleph) Daneri, like most good poets, didn’t invent reasons, he found them – found them in the inexplicable Aleph. Borges is not only talking about nature of language or importance of poetry, he also seems to be speculating why the descriptions of supernatural are so vague or strange: “How, then, can I translate into words the limitless Aleph, which my floundering mind can scarcely encompass? Mystics, faced with the same problem, fall back on symbols: to signify the godhead, one Persian speaks of a bird that somehow is all birds;
(A review by Sidharth VardhanOf ‘The Dream of a Ridiculous Man’First written on November 30, 2015) “Only perhaps in our children, in their earliest years, one might find, some remote faint reflection of this beauty.” Fyodor Dostoyevsky (Dream of a Ridiculous Man) Do you remember losing that treasured innocence that we were born with? that old childish ‘innocence’ (there might be a better word to describe it, but my vocabulary is poor) – the nausea of which we live with for rest of our lives? We know, or at least we think we know, that it can’t be helped, and we would consider someone a weakling, a divine fool or ridiculous if he or she retained that innocence beyond a certain age. We even laugh at our own foolishness of old days: “They hardly remembered what they had lost, in fact, refused to believe that they had ever been happy and innocent. They even laughed at the possibility of this happiness in the past, and called it a dream.” Fyodor Dostoyevsky (Dream of a Ridiculous Man) Yet, we look at children, ever cheerful, and feel sorry for the loss they are bound to suffer one time or another in their