Share Your Thoughts

STORY–WALLAH: SHORT FICTION FROM SOUTH ASIAN WRITERS edited by Shyam Selvadurai. Houghton Mifflin, 2005. Paperback, 448 pages. $14.00.

One of the best things about Story-wallah is Shyam Selvadurai’s introduction titled “Introducing Myself in the Diaspora.” Sri Lankan Selvadurai, author of Funny Boy (1994) and Cinnamon Gardens (1998), takes an in-depth look into both the philosophical nature and psychological realities of diaspora. As his starting point, Selvadurai contemplates the difficulty in defining what kind of writer he actually is: Canadian? Sri Lankan? Gay? With insight, he arrives at a few conclusions, none of them simple. Among them, he places himself “from the space between, that marvelous open space represented by the hyphen, in which the two parts of my identity jostle and rub up against each other like tectonic plates, pushing upwards the eruption that is my work.” He adds astutely, “Not to write from the space-in-between would diminish me.” Further, he concedes, “All colonial societies, in their struggle for independence and the forming of a new nation, reshape and redefine their identity.” Diaspora has a myriad of meanings and interpretations. In the case of the South Asian diaspora, Selvadurai points a finger at the “differences and strife” between countries in South Asia, citing Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka, interrupting what should be, in theory, “fluid and encompassing difference.” He drives this point home with the now infamous fatwa against Salman Rushdie. As well, he notes how a traditional society sees homosexuality, or any kind of non-conformity, as a threat to a sort of cultural honor: “… one’s authenticity within the South Asian diaspora, the sense that one is a true member of the group, is often determined by one’s conformity to gender roles and expectations.” Further, he both complicates and elucidates the concept of diaspora by conceding that it does not take into consideration the children of “mixed” marriage, of which he himself is a member.

The stories themselves have been written by a wide variety of South Asians, some whom can be said to be household names such as Anita Desai, Bharati Mukherjee, Jhumpa Lahiri, and Michael Ondaatje, while others will be, to most, virtually unheard of. The inclusion of writers such as Sam Selvon of Trinidad, Mena Abdullah of Australia, and K.S. Manam of Malaysia, amongst many others is testament to the original and literal meaning of the word “diaspora” from the Greek as a “scattering of seeds.” South Asians live, work, and write in nearly every country in the world. This collection highlights the amazing double-consciousness South Asian writers must possess to produce stories that highlight certain experiences that, whether or not you count yourself among the “scattered seeds,” you will be sure to relate to in one way or another.

—Michelle Reale