Publisher: Harper Perennial
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“…But let me also thank you for your stories. I shall remember you all- by your stories. So many stories. Makes me think of the leaves that get swept away by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government every autumn.”
Tokyo Cancelled, Rana Dasgupta’s debut book, is a collection of thirteen short stories that passengers stranded at an airport tell each other to pass the night. The tenor of most stories is best described as quirky, a combination of surreal and the mundane. Robert De Niro’s child, conceived in a laundromat, masters the transubstantiation of matter and turns it on his enemies; a Ukrainian merchant is led by a wingless bird to a lost lover; a Japanese man builds for himself a prosthetic lover, a mute Turkish girl is trapped alone in the house of a German cartographer, etc.
Dasgupta’s book, which won the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize, has been lauded as the contemporary Arabian Nights or The Canterbury Tales for the 21st century. While the stories are certainly macroscopic, luxuriously stretching out over global space, moving from the timeless landscape of a fairytale to modern day Delhi to Frankfurt to Tokyo to Paris to Bytom to Buenos Aires, their quality leaves much to be desired.
As with nearly all short story collections, some stories hit their mark while others slink into oblivion, leaving nary an impression behind. The stories are a kaleidoscopic look at modern, urban lives and the kind of narratives that these produce. In Dasgupta’s words- “The airport can be a place to stage storytelling as the most primordial communication between human beings and the unknown. I like such disjunctions. A lot of the unpromising urban spaces that come into this book turn out to be settings for surprisingly intense experience.”
Unfortunately, the execution of this wonderful theory falls below the mark. The stories provide relatable flashes of the modern life- our rampant consumerism, fixation with technology, government surveillance, existential disconnect, confusing relationships etc. But most stories either veer into unnecessary fantasticality or peter out pointlessly. The promise of the exciting premise remains suspended in the air, unfulfilled.
I would, however, bid the reader to not dismiss the author out of hand. His next work, Solo, fulfils the promise shown by Tokyo Cancelled. It is a far more mature and poignant book and justifies, in my humble opinion, the praise lavished on the writer.
You can find The NY Times in conversation with Rana Dasgupta on his latest book, Capital: A Portrait of Twenty-first Century Delhi, here.
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