25 January, 2014

#BookReview :: Boats on Land by Janice Pariat

Boats on Land (Random House, India) is a collection of short stories that offer a new way of looking at the world, and, in particular, India’s little-known northeast. Set in and around Shillong, Cherrapunjee and pockets of Assam, these tales are shaped against a larger historical canvas of the early days of the British Raj, the World Wars, conversions to Christianity, and the missionaries.

Spanning a sweep of centuries, from the mid-1800s to the present day, the stories work as a historical, sociological documentation of a place and its people, interweaving the quotidien and the mythic, the mundane and the extraordinary.

This is a world in which the everyday is infused with folklore and a deep belief in the supernatural. Here, a girl dreams of being a firebird. An artist watches souls turn into trees. A man shape-shifts into a tiger. Another is bewitched by water fairies. Political struggles and social unrest interweave with fireside tales and age-old superstitions.

Janice Pariat has indeed brought together a collection of short stories that are so different yet so beautiful when read together. 

I have read this book quite some time back yet I intentionally held on to myself from writing a review of this book because the amount of emotions that I went through while reading this book was simply unexpected and I wanted to capture each of them. But even after re-reading a couple of stories, I feel oddly unequipped to review this book. 

There are fifteen stories in all, starting with ‘A Waterfall of Horses’ and ending with ‘An Aerial View’. While one story tells us about the various struggles between the British and the locals, there’s another that talks about the local superstition. A third story tells as about the various divisions in people, another story tells us about the school life affected by the local political scene. Every time I think about this book I am still surprised by the varied subjects touch by this author - from various myths and legends, to the local beliefs and superstitions of the people at that time, Janice has painted a superb and complete picture of the North East India during the early days of British Raj by including the political, social and cultural scenario of the time.

Telling short stories is a form of art that very few people can master and I for one have only enjoyed O’Henry, Jefferey Archer and Anita Desai so far. Even Jhumpa Lahiri’s Interpreter of Maladies had me in its grip. And now it is Janice Pariat. Though each of these authors are VERY different from each other in almost every aspect, and I am not comparing Janice with these greats… But Janice has clearly made her own space in Short Story world and over the time we may even see her name with the other greats.

Read this book!

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