Achingly merciless, London-born author Sidhu’s 12 short stories sharply delineate the edges of identity and sanity… These haunting tales simultaneously attract and repel, enchant and shatter, evoking the ambiguous relationships between past and present, others and self… Deftly sifting through a range of less-often-visited emotions, Sidhu creates inscrutable characters inhabiting bewildering circumstances… Smart, provocative and poignantly disturbing, this collection, the author’s U.S. debut, signals a writer to watch.
The body of the review is available here, but the heart of it is this:
Though weird and eccentric, Sidhu’s stories are also empathetic and refreshingly free of the clichés of immigrant narratives. He manages to portray his characters as uniquely Indian without losing sight of their individuality, offering small, piercing looks into the humanity that resides in every situation and person, no matter how strange.
“My father said that in India they gave names to the dark space between the stars. It was the darkness that was novel, scarce, that seemed brilliant against so much light. Sometimes I would find my father late at night in the living room, the lights all off, only the clock glowing on the vcr. He would say that it was such a relief, this darkness, this not being able to see. Only years later did I learn what it was he was hoping not to see,” remarks the floating narratorial voice in Sidhu’s Neanderthal Tongues. A powerful, suggestive story, it sculpts darkness from sparks of violence and finds the primal, atavistic expression of terror, one that transcends boundaries, language and time.Hero of the Nation, another disquieting story, explores the dynamics of caring for an ailing (grand)parent and how each member in the family scrabbles for air, a calming breath. Among these stories of dislocation and fragments of lives when time seems out of joint, The Discovery could have you thinking of Toba Tek Singh—Manto’s heartbreak about the madness of Partition, for it’s about a man who can’t make sense of the world as it splinters into ‘notcountries’ and ‘notwords’. The Border Song, among the lightest pieces in this collection, finds the transformative grace in grief and a closure of sorts that eludes characters in The Order of Things, a masterpiece of a story that could have you marvelling at Sidhu’s incisive and distinctive perspective for the Punjab experience of violence, exile and estrangement—both within India and abroad. Seeking in each story a ‘correct pronoun’ for our splintering selves and a ‘new grammar’ for fugitive histories, Sidhu seems to articulate Edvard Munch’s The Scream—that “infinite scream coursing through nature”, which the Norwegian expressionist sensed at sunset and painted as part of his ‘Frieze of Life’ series.
It’s hard to speak of such a genre-bending and multi-talented artist as Alasdair Gray returning to form (which form exactly would that be?), but for those of us who loved his early books and were sometimes disappointed by the slim efforts of recent years, Old Men In Love should be something to cheer about.
“Among the many symptoms of living in an age of a perpetual war on terrorism is amnesia. There are times we forget when it began, and for those growing up in this age, I can only imagine that it has the shopworn quality of grim permanency that those of us who came of age in the Cold War once felt. That war had no beginning, not in our lifetimes at least, and it sure felt like it never would have an end, except the most ugly, in nuclear annihilation. The fears must be different today. Instead of global extinction, the destruction children probably fear is localized and personal. A terrorist bomb will blow up their world.”
Up now at NYFA Current, I have an essay on Sandow Birk’s recent show at P.P.O.W. Gallery. Here’s an excerpt:
“What Birk arrives at in these paintings is a vision of a Qu’ran whose primary concerns are quotidian troubles and joys and the unadorned events of everyday Americans. A man affixes a satellite dish to the side of a bungalow. A boy and a girl shovel snow from a parked car. Shoppers at Walmart push carts and search through the bargain rack. Pedestrians cross a busy Manhattan intersection under a sky of surveillance cameras. A Latino mother and her children walk out of a market in Los Angeles.”