From the highly acclaimed author of Atlas of Unknowns (“Dazzling . . . One of the most exciting debut novels since Zadie Smith’s White Teeth”—San Francisco Chronicle; “An astonishment of a debut”—Junot Díaz), a bravura collection of short stories set in locales as varied as London, Sierra Leone, and the American Midwest that captures the yearning and dislocation of young men and women around the world.
In “Lion and Panther in London,” a turn-of-the-century Indian wrestler arrives in London desperate to prove himself champion of the world, only to find the city mysteriously absent of challengers. In “Light & Luminous,” a gifted dance instructor falls victim to her own vanity when a student competition allows her a final encore. In “The Scriptological Review: A Last Letter from the Editor,” a young man obsessively studies his father’s handwriting in hopes of making sense of his death. And in the marvelous “What to Do with Henry,” a white woman from Ohio takes in the illegitimate child her husband left behind in Sierra Leone, as well as an orphaned chimpanzee who comes to anchor this strange new family.
With exuberance and compassion, Tania James once again draws us into the lives of damaged, driven, and beautifully complicated characters who quietly strive for human connection.
About Tania James
Tania James is the author of the novel Atlas of Unknowns. Her fiction has appeared in Boston Review, Granta, One Story, A Public Space, and The Kenyon Review. She lives in Washington, D.C.
James’ fine debut novel, Atlas of Unknowns (2009), was a continent-hopping tale that tracked the divergent lives of two Indian sisters with wit and a lightly comic touch. Her debut story collection displays a similar approach, and she enthusiastically tests how her style can function in a variety of settings. The two most inventive stories study human emotions in nonhuman contexts. “What to Do With Henry” follows a chimpanzee’s travels from Sierra Leone to the United States, where he builds an uncanny bond with a woman and her adopted daughter; as the chimp struggles for his place in a zoo’s pecking order, James crafts a clear (but unforced) allegory of our own human strivings. Likewise, the closing “Girl Marries Ghost” imagines a society where people who are desperate for companionship can marry ghosts, who are eager to spend a little time back in the real world; James’ portrait of one such marriage is a seriocomic expose of our craving for order set against our inability to let go of our messy pasts. The other stories deal in culture clashes, mostly featuring Indian Americans, but for James ethnicity isn’t the sole source of conflict. The Indian dance teacher in “Light & Luminous,” for instance, is defined as much by her sense of personal pride as her growing feeling that her art is out of step with the times. In the title story, the protagonist (who has the evocative last name of Panicker) is deciding whether his fellow nursing home residents are more embracing than his family. – Kirkus Reviews
Family Secrets - ‘Aerogrammes,’ Stories by Tania James
The New York Times Book Review – May 25, 2012 (Excerpt)
Tania James is a warmhearted writer. In “Aerogrammes,” her first story collection, she treats her eclectic band of characters — several children, a chimpanzee, an obsessive analyzer of handwriting, two Indian wrestlers in Edwardian London, a former grocer, an aging dance teacher, a widower, a writer and a ghost — gently, almost parentally, pitying them while recognizing the humor in their predicaments.
James writes fluent, formal sentences, and her language is often artful. The skin of a boy who sells the chimpanzee has a “sweatless sheen”; the woman who buys the animal strokes “the soft saucers of his ears.” A story titled “ ‘The Scriptological Review’: A Last Letter From the Editor,” which takes the form of a journal on handwriting analysis, lets us encounter, delightfully, both a “castrated ‘y’ ” and a colon magnified to reveal “the slight eyelash left by the lingering pen.” We see the teeth of the newsletter editor’s mother “lacquered with wine” and appreciate the difference between the strawberries she buys — those from the grocery store “super-sweet diploid mutants,” the ones from the farmers’ market “sour red nubs.” [Read the full article...]
‘Aerogrammes,’ by Washington’s Tania James: Crisp short stories on kinship
The Washington Post Book Review – June 8, 2012 (Excerpt)
Tania James’s new collection, “Aerogrammes,” opens with a fantastical story of two brothers — a lion and a panther — who travel from India for a wrestling championship in London, “a city where athletes are actors, where the ring is a stage.” They arrive to much fanfare but are saddened to learn that might doesn’t necessarily conquer all in the ring. “Wrestlers are paid to take a fall once in a while, to pounce and pound and growl on cue,” James writes. The brothers go on to have the strength of their bodies, and of their filial bonds, tested. But whatever happens in the ring, this story and all the others emerge victorious.
An agile wrestler of words herself, James is an Indian American writer who lives in Washington. Her collection’s nine stories crisscross in and out of reality, zigzagging from a girl who forms a siblinglike bond with a chimpanzee to a woman who marries a ghost. But throughout, the constant is James’s ability to render strong characters and tender relationships. Some are real and some are clearly imagined, but they all come to feel authentic and deftly drawn. [Read the full article...]
We are the only country that makes guns, including military-style assault weapons, available to anyone who wants to buy them. This is not freedom. It is a tyranny of death and destruction — a tyranny of which the National Rifle Association is proud. The Washington Post
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