The descriptions of the background setting, actions of the characters, the sights and sounds of the place are vivid. It is almost as if the scenes are projected on a movie screen. The best example of this is the very first story I happen to read 'Song of My Mother.' It is also the shortest story of the collection. The description of grandmother preparing karela sabji made my mouth water. I also picked up the recipe to boot. In spite of this, I found the story's conclusion to be a cliche.
All through the narratives, you feel as if you are watching people moving about in a public place, you can witness their every move, their every action to the smallest possible detail, you can guess their thoughts and feelings, but can never feel close to them. You are somehow not connected to them.
'Brave We Are' deals with the issue of mixed marriages and children born out of such unions, the 'hybrids'. The issues are made evident through the examples of friends and neighbors and the conversations between mother and son, No action takes place during the course of the story.
The title story, 'Dying in a Strange country' portrays an old lady, Sakima Bano, visiting her son in USA for the very first time. Her overwhelming fear of dying abroad is the theme.
How could she bring herself to tell him she wished she would be as fortunate as her husband. That she longed to be buried like him in the cemetery where earth had lost color. Her father was also there and her mother, her uncles and also her grandparents. There, she would not be alone.
As it happened, I read Flannery O'Connor's short story 'The Geranium' that same week. It also deals with an old man going to live with his daughter in a strange town. We feel the fears of this old man and ride an emotional roller coaster with him in the process of reading the story. 'Dying in a Strange Country' has potential for the same, but this story fails to evoke those fears and emotions.
In my opinion, the stories of the collection 'Attar of Roses and Other Stories' are far superior to those in this new collection. The title story in the aforementioned collection has all the elements of a good short story: plot, character analysis, setting, and theme. Many of the stories in the current collection lack these essential elements, though the setting is superb.
Tahira is a prolific translator and has supreme command of both Urdu and English. I hope to see more of her fiction in future along with more great translations.
More about Tahira Naqvi
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