“Nalini Jones writes about the marginal community of Christians in Bombay and the neighourhoods in which they live. To the outside, these seem to possess a fabled calm, but the insider knows they are in many ways on the brink of dissolution. Jones combines the outsider’s wonder with an insider’s shrewdness, and walks the line between the two with genuine intelligence and skill: she’s a terrific writer.”
– Amit Chaudhuri
“Nalini Jones’s stories twine round each other in a rich exploration of time and place, in a particular town, Santa Clara, in post-colonial India. The family in What You Call Winter is devout in its Catholic heritage, its culture within their country’s culture carried on in English. The reader may have a sense that we’ve not been here before, but perhaps we have for Jones’s beautifully crafted stories recall Chekov’s plays with their moving portrayal of the sorrows and steady belief of those who stay, the trials and accommodations of those who go away. At times, the visits back to India are heartbreaking in their revelations; at other times amusing in their presumption of the better life abroad. Much like Eudora Welty’s extraordinary collection of stories, The Golden Apples, time unfolds in these stories from the Edenic garden of childhood to the broken lives and the salvaged hopes of those who endure.”
– Maureen Howard
“These stories come into the ear and eye with the bright clarity of the best fairy-tales; they’re also addictive and real and true. I love this book. I love its stories one by one, and I love the way they are linked to make a natural whole.”
– John Casey
“With elegance and care, Nalini Jones has brilliantly conjured up the lost world of Catholic India. Her well-wrought tales ring true and her themes of love, loss, and family are universal. In this book, she combines a deep cultural and emotional intelligence – a truly fine balance.”
– Fareed Zakaria
“How does she do it? A child, a family, a household, a community, a faith, and era – and suddenly What You Call Winter is so much more than the sum of its arts. Delightful and deeply moving, here are nine elegantly interconnected tales which introduce a world new in American fiction. The eye is keen, the voice is intimate, and Nalini Jones has made an important debut”
– Dave King
“Here’s a collection of stories that deepens as it goes along. It offers a world—Catholic India—pleasingly unfamiliar to most American readers, and perhaps to many Indian readers as well. Readers of any stripe will find, however, the familiar virtues for which we keep returning to short stories: empathy, breadth, the joys in paced concealment and revelation. And there is as well a sharp ear for a fine phrase (“bravado nearly as sustaining as courage,” “face scrubbed clear of any expression but acquiescence”), which brings some of the music of poetry to the patient observations of the fiction writer.”
– Brad Leithauser
Publishers Weekly, May 7, 2007
In her auspicious debut, Jones reveals the hopes and disappointments of young children, mothers and old men living in Santa Clara, a mostly Catholic suburb of Mumbai, India. It covers all the ground between six-year old Jude Almeida, who in the story ‘The Crow and the Monkey’ witnesses his godmother’s wild antics at the New Year party, and 77-year old Roddy D’Souza, who in the title story is haunted by visions of his dead father. The opening story, ‘In the Garden,’ is a gem: at home alone on the verge of her 10th birthday, Marian Almeida discovers and tries on the dress that is intended to be her gift. Simply plotted, the story evokes the weight of expectations of a girl about to enter adolescence. Similar themes are fleshed out in ‘This Is Your Home Also’ and the devastating ‘We Think of You Every Day,’ both of which also explore childhood vulnerabilities. Adulthood, however, offers a wider perspective; in ‘The Bold and the Beautiful’ and ‘Home for a Short Time,’ characters reconcile themselves with their decisions – one leaves her mother behind for a new life in the United States, while another stays in India. Jones displays impressive scope and depth of sympathy in her first collection.
Kirkus Reviews, June 15, 2007 *Starred review*
A debut collection of intertwined short stories set in India and America. The Almeida family, their cousins and friends live in Santa Clara, a Roman Catholic residential enclave in India. Those who remain witness over time the demolition of its graceful gardens and airy homes to make way for apartment complexes and commerce. Those who leave for America either live a life apart, at home in neither place, or, worse, live with guilt for finding happiness so far from their family. As the collection opens, Marian Almeida is a ten-year-old on the cusp of puberty in the haunting “In the Garden.” Later, in “Half the Story,” she reappears, married, living with her Irish husband and children in Cincinnati, uncertain of how to protect her older daughter from the sexuality that arrives in the form of a neighbor, a brash American divorcee. Jude Almeida, Marian’s younger brother, unwittingly instigates a wicked display of psychological violence that occurs at a New Year’s party in “The Crow and the Monkey.” In the final story, “This Is Your Home Also,” Jude is an adult, living with his elderly, increasingly ineffectual parents. In other stories, members of the extended family take center stage: Colleen, a closeted lesbian, returns from America for her mother Grace’s cataract operation in “The Bold, the Beautiful”; Grace’s son Michael and his wife visit from America with their adopted child in “Carrying”; Roddy D’Souza, a long-time friend and gymkhana card partner of Francis Almeida, begins seeing his father, who died 65 years before, riding a bike around town in the title story. Jones brings the narrative skill of a seasoned writer to this work. She is best at evoking the fearful lonesomeness of alienation, whether it is in the mind of a child observing what he cannot understand, or in the heart of a mother who cannot stop change. An impressive debut.
Library Journal, June 15, 2007
In these interconnected stories, set in a Catholic suburb of the Indian city of Mumbai, Jones depicts the triumphs and pitfalls of the Almeida family with astounding grace and beauty. Some of these pieces are filled with irrepressible sadness, as in the title story, “What You Call Winter,” in which a son sees the ghost of his father bicycling around town. Roddy, an older man, feels his world closing around him as new construction goes up—even the “Talkies” close—as he prepares to visit his grandchildren in the States. Younger characters often find themselves navigating between two worlds—America and India—as in “Half the Story” or “Home for a Short Time.” The most poignant stories, however, are the ones in which the younger generation discover they have no language to reach an older generation. For instance, in “The Crow and the Monkey,” six-year-old Jude cannot make his mother understand how important a bonfire is to him. In short, this powerful debut collection is not to be missed by most public and academic libraries.
– Chantal Walvoord
June 28, 2007, The Phoenix: What You Call Winter is listed with other “notable debuts” in John Freeman’s “Heat Waves” column: “summer reads to cool off with.”
July issue of Vogue, What You Call Winter is among the “great escapes” in The Vogue 20 “People Are Talking About” column: one of “two debut story collections [to] examine modern life with Chekhovian grace.”
August 2007 issue of Elle magazine, p. 130:
Another Face of India
United by their minority status, the families of the Catholic town of Santa Clara, India, just outside of Mumbai, all belong to one another in What You Call Winter (Knopf), Nalini Jones’ debut story collection. And when Santa Clarans leave, they feel themselves strangers in the world, as does a young woman named Marian who comes to the U.S. in “Half the Story”: “Everything was wide in the Midwest, even in the suburbs. The yards, winter-yellow, and the smooth-paved roads. The sedans and station wagons. The flattened vowels and broad-backed casseroles. Only the wind had a narrow edge.”
Jones turns phrases with a lyrical lilt that taps into our deepest feelings about family. But her greatest gift is in how she evokes the heightened psychic states of children: Though limited in comprehension, they can sense the slightest tremor, and such awareness is often the pinprick start of growing up. In “The Bold, the Beautiful,” a woman recalls feigning poor eyesight to get some smart-looking glasses. Only then does she realize what her vanity has cost the family finances. Even years later, “she could hardly bear to think of her father’s face that night: the eyes sad and knowing, his disappointment bound so closely with love that perhaps they were inextricable.” What You Call Winter is a momentous debut, a bewitching exploration of what it means to belong, anywhere.
– Rachel Rosenblit