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The Japanese Wife by Kunal Basu

posted Nov 27, 2015, 5:36 AM by Kanika G   [ updated May 12, 2016, 1:36 AM ]
Obtained from the oficial page
Image obtained from official festival page

I will be attending the Jaipur Lit Festival in January 2016. According to Wikipedia, it is Asia's largest literature festival. And the registration is free!

I looked through the list of speakers in search of authors. Being a mother of two kids under the age of four, short stories and children's books work best for me, right now.

I decided to start with a collection of short stories, The Japanese Wife, by Kunal Basu. I had already seen the movie, when it first came out. So I was curious about the book.

image obtained from amazon page for review purposes
Image is obtained from the book's amazon page and is for review purposes only

On the whole, short stories could be a misleading categorization. I would describe many of them as novels where the details are left to the readers imagination. These stories are not for lazy or quick reading. They are not racy, but the characters are engaging, so you want to know what they do and why. The end of most of the stories are dissatisfying in a way that gets you thinking about the characters and their situation. Although you do get to know what happened to the characters, the why or how is left open to interpretation. I couldn't help but ponder on what the characters were thinking about and feeling in the last few paragraphs of the stories. And each time I pondered I understood the stories and the characters a little better.

I am going to discuss a few of them:

The Japanese Wife: Like many of the other stories, there is a very powerful idea that drives the story. There are some indications about the the nature of the relationship between Snehamoy and the other characters including Miyage (his Japanese wife), his aunt, the widow who comes to live with them and her son. The details of their interactions, however, is left to the readers imagination.
The stark contrast between the intimacy that Snehamoy shares with his wife and confidant who he never sees, and the widow who he never speaks to and yet sees everyday is striking. The movie fills in a lot of the details that were left to the imagination in the story.

Long Live Imelda Marcos: This one is a more conventional short story with a twist in the plot at the end. It is cute story with a sad development and a hopeful ending. The relations between the characters is presented in a realistic way. I liked how the close, yet not so close, relationship between the couple and their maid is explored.

Lotus Dragon: This one has an interesting historical backdrop. I liked the different outlooks of the characters as a result of being in different stages of life.

The Snake Charmer: I thought this one could have been better. The story would have been more magical if the snake charmer's daughter had extracted the demons by cultivating a meaningful relationship with the tourist rather than doing it by magic. This story left me feeling cheated.

Father Tito's Onion Rings: Not going in to the details of the relationship between Lata and Father Tito, but pointing out a few interactions that give you the flavour, in my opinion, made the end of this story much more powerful.

Tiger Tiger: This was a good story. But what found most interesting is that, The Japanese Wife and this story were both set around the banks of the Matla and use the river to set the mood and yet have such different flavours. Amazing to make such versatile use of the river.

I enjoyed reading The Pearl Fisher, but the end had me a little confused. Was it something to do with a river being an unsatisfactory substitute for a sea? Or is it about his African family not really knowing him well? Or am I completely off base? May be one of you understood it better...

The Grateful Ganga was one story that did not make any sense to me and I did not enjoy reading it.

Someone with a considerable back ground in communism, Russia and The Revolution would probably appreciate a couple of the stories more than I did. Miss Annie can be enjoyed by anyone but the proper background might enhance the appreciation of the story. Lenin's Cafe was lost on me.

One major drawback, in my opinion, is this book is not available as an ebook . I wish it were.