Archive for the Short Stories Category

Unccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri

Posted in Diaspora, India / Indian, Literary fiction, Short Stories, South Asian, Women on April 29, 2008 by Ishrath Farhana


With this book, we become conscious that Jhumpa Lahiri is not an immigrant. She is a child of immigrants. In Unaccustomed Earth, she writes with simple grace about the burdens of these children – the weight of their ethnicity, and the weight of their immigrant parents’ dreams and expectations.

In “Only Goodness”, a stroy about a family trying to deal with their son’s alcoholism:

That’s the problem with this country,” her mother said. “Too many freedoms. Too much having fun. When we were young, life wasn’t always aout fun.”

Sudha pitied her mother, pitied her refusal to accomodate such an unpleasant and alien fact, her need to blame Amerca and its laws instead of her son… Her parents had been blind to the things that plagued their children: being teased at school for the color of their skin or for the funny things their mother occasionally put into their lunch boxes, potato curry sandwiches that tinted Wonderbread green. What could there possibly be to be unhappy about? her parents would have thought. “Depression” was a foeign word to them, an American thing. In their opinion their children were immune from the hardships and injustices they had left behind in India, as ifthe innoculations the pediatrician had given Sudha and Rahul when they were babies guaranteed them an existence free of suffering.

This is a book that will wind up on everyone’s summer reading list. Lahiri’s characters are familiar and endearing, and their stories will tug at your heartstrings.

Lahiri sometimes gets criticized for choosing the same milieu and the same class of Ivy League privileged Bengali families in the US. She responds to criticism about her Bengali-American centered subject matter:

 ‘Is that all you’ve got in there?’ I get asked the question all the time. It baffles me. Does John Updike get asked this question? Does Alice Munro? It’s the ethnic thing, that’s what it is. And my answer is always, yes, I will continue to write about this world, because it inspires me to write, and there’s nothing more important than that.

           Jhumpa Lahiri, reading for International Readings at Harbourfront, Toronto.

She read marvellously from “Hell-Heaven”, the 2nd story, and arguably the best one, from this beautiful collection. 


I, Robot by Isaac Asimov

Posted in Asimov, SF, Short Stories on July 28, 2007 by Ishrath Farhana

He is credited with coining the word “robotics”.  This is the first ever volume of robot stories that Asimov wrote. For SF afficionados, Asimov’s formulation of the Three Laws of Robotics is practically canon.  The Three Laws, famously, are

A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.

A robot must obey orders given to it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.

A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

And now this well-loved volume is available in audio format.  My contention with this cd was the cover, which misleadingly uses Will Smith in the lead role of a movie which is a spin-off loosely based on one of Asimov’s robot stories. In fact, I thought I was picking up the audio version of the movie. The original dustjacket illustration is presented here on the left, and on the right is the cover on the paperback edition. 

The stories themselves were vaguely familiar. The problem was that I had read many other robot stories in Asimov’s collections and several anthologies, and I seemed to remember different endings to some stories. In some cases, I was sure that other stories were supposed to be included here, which weren’t.

Bloodletting and Miraculous Cures

Posted in Short Stories on September 22, 2006 by Ishrath Farhana

Dr. Vincent Lam is an emergency physician in Toronto General and Bloodletting and Mirculous Cures is his first book. It is startling to read someone who has found the talent and time for two demanding careers. The most original book I have read lately, it depicts short and sharp episodes in the lives of four wannabe doctors. We follow Fitzgerald, Ming, Chen and Sri from their frantic days of dissecting at medical school into careers and lives outside the operating room. Not your usual dramas on primetime TV, the stories are more of the moral dilemmas faced by doctors on a daily basis.

In How To Get Into Medical School, Fitz and ultra-rational Ming explore a relationship that scatters in the face of her disapproving family and then by the extraordinary commitment demanded of medical students. In Take All of Murphy Ming, Chen and Sri face the challenge of their first dissection – and the unusual quandary of deciding whether following the anatomy textbook or keeping a tattoo intact is more important.

In Code Clock we have a patient, already dead when announced as having a heart attack by a nurse, and Fitzgerald still does the best to resuscitate the victim. In A Long Migration, we see Chen’s grandfather, once a flamboyant member of the Chinese expatriate community in Saigon before the Vietnam War. Now Percival Chen is dying in a Brisbane retirement home, and his grandson’s modern medical recommendations must make way for older potions that arrive for Percival from an older world.

Winston is the story I found myself most engaged by, where Sri gets a sleepless patient who is getting delusional about his upstairs neighbor, first convinced that she poisoned him, and then that she is about to either kill him or have an affair with him. In Eli, cops bring in a prisoner with a dubious gash in his forehead that they claim was caused by falling, and Fitzgerald gets bitten, after which he leaves a scissors within Eli’s reach deliberately.

In Afterwards, an old man falls dead in the middle of an orgasm in an illicit massage parlor, and the paramedic who picks him up sympathetically records it as a “hair salon”. In The Insistent Tide, Ming is forced to make do without anesthetic in an emergency cesearean section.

In Night Flight, Fitzgerald tries to ease the guilt and pain of a grieving widow by telling a white lie about the lousy medical care she arranged for her recently deceased  husband. Contact Tracing is the story that struck me because I have been in the unsettling situation where I had a baby in the middle of the SARS pandemic, and have seen the cringing of the hospital staff whenever I coughed or wheezed. This story of Fitzgerald contracting SARS and soon dying of it left me feeling guilty because I remembered being annoyed at what seemed to me the overdone precautions of the hospitals, their masks, their disposable scrubs, their frequent handwashings and sanitization.

Before Light is Chen, the ER physician’s frenetic nightly routine, where he battles sleep deprivation and exhaustion to race against the clock in the emergency room. I came away with the firm impression that the doctor is the guy next door mowing the lawn, the woman at the supermarket – in jobs where they try hard to meet the expectations of patients believing in the infallibility of modern medicine. But doctors are fallible inside and outside hospitals. Physicians constantly encounter moral dilemmas in their professional and personal lives. There are no clear answers and no permanent cures. The outcome of their choices are debatable. Lives are affected long after surgery. The human body is nothing but a mannequin that falls apart and needs fixing.