As a humble writer and avid reader of fiction, I’m always in awe of the short story. While on one level the short story is challenged by its need for brevity, on another level it is that very need that frees it into a realm of creativity without the bounds of structure, form, and formula that apply to larger works. Unlike a novel that begs for details on and off the page, the short story has the privilege of precisely capturing a moment, an image, an observation or a phenomenon. Many good short stories do not seek a resolution and in that nuanced restraint, unforgettable stories are created. The Best Asian Short Stories 2020, an anthology does just that.
Inspired by the Best American Short Stories, this series was started in 2017 by Kitaab International, a Singapore-based publisher. The intention has been to allow writers of Asian descent and those with strong connections with Asia to have a place to submit their works to be considered for publication. In its fourth year, the series has been reviewed, featured, and recommended over several platforms across Asia and the world.
This year’s anthology includes themes of migration, pandemic, and the ever-present human condition of wanting to belong. These stories by previously published and unpublished authors are set in all parts of the world ranging from the mountains of Uttarakhand and Australian outback to the outskirts of Atlanta and the Canadian Rocky Mountains. Through them runs a common thread of uniquely Asian voices and stories.
Zafar Anjum, the founder of Kitaab.org and the editor for this year’s anthology says, “Living in Singapore, I was curious to find out about other Asian cultures and I thought it was important to build the bridge – that connection among cultures.”
As a reader, I can attest that this bridge was successfully built. The Post-Colonial use of the English language here is used not so much to express the linear, individualistic storytelling of the west, but the communal and cyclical tradition of stories that Asian cultures share. Our rituals, our families, our superstitions, and our desires are shared in these pages. I read a story called A Woman’s Place by Jasmine Adams about a Chinese and Indonesian family spanning four generations, I couldn’t help but resonate with the issues of raising a girl child in an Indian family.
In Kelly Kaur’s Singapore Dream, the human question of belonging is explored through three generations with the theme of the soul’s eternal search for a home and the constant push and pull between the old and new.
In Seema Punwani’s beautiful story Spin, the challenges of parenting are explored in raising a special needs child.
Similarly, in Moazzam Sheikh’s Sunshine, the hard task of parenting in an unsafe world is discussed.
Renowned poet Sudeep Sen’s Gold Squares is poetry in prose of great caliber against the backdrop of Mumbai.
Closer to home, Atlantan author Murali Kamma’s notable Route to Lucky Inn is a suspenseful and intriguing account of the interplay of migration and politics, but at its core, it is an exposition of the tragic state of human existence.
It’s impossible to mention all the stories in the collection, but if I were to sum up the experience of the profundity of reading this book, I would quote a character from the story Singapore Dreams. She says, “Nothing is free…immigrants are forever conflicted as we are. This is our unique burden.”