Publisher: Random House India
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An American lady adopts a daughter born from her husband’s extra-marital affair and also a chimpanzee along with it. These three form an extra-ordinary family in “What to do with Henry”, filling up the gaps and creases in each other’s lives. In “The Scriptological Review”, a young man obsesses over his father’s handwriting samples hoping to make sense of his suicide. In the title story, a lonely old man waits in a nursing home in the hope of his son coming to meet him soon. In “Ethnic Ken”, a young Indian-American girl deals with a grandfather who is mentally trapped in his home back in India. “Escape Key” brings out the emotional conflict of an aspiring writer who has to choose between his brother- who has just suffered from a crippling accident- and his personal ambitions. Stories like these make up Tania James’ collection of short stories titled “Aerogrammes and other stories”.
All the stories deal with themes of identity, loss and love and mostly feature Indian Americans as the primary characters. James attempts to bring out the emotional turmoil and cultural strains that Indian families face in America. She focuses on the friction in these immigrant families, often caused due to the clash of cultures and the pressure of assimilation in a new land. Her characters are eclectic, diverse and complex and she treats them gently with much love and affection. There is a constant struggle to find comfort and to cope with loss that underlines all her stories. However, she manages to avoid excessive sentimentality, adding a humorous tinge to each emotional moment. The stories are both tender and funny at the same time, and it is a credit to James’ writing that she manages to not go overboard on either dimension. She projects a deep understanding of the inadequacy and insecurity that a foreign land brings with it.
The short stories do not have a particularly definite structure or plot. James prefers to focus on the emotion aspect of it more than the plot aspect. A lot is left unsaid and the reader has to make an effort to read between the lines. This might get a bit tiring towards the end. But the stories have some beautiful raw and tender moments. I’d suggest taking a gap after reading each story and sitting back to reflect on the range of emotions that each of the characters display. It will definitely help appreciate better the nuanced detailing that James’ invests in her characters.