Short takes that count

Five years ago, when Alice Munro got the Nobel Prize for Literature, it was a long overdue recognition not just of the sort the Canadian writer deserved, but also of the short story form. It was not clear if the Nobel Committee for Literature, which is now in such bad odour that there was no Prize this year, had made the 2013 choice by first seeking out the leading practitioner of the genre and giving Munro her due or whether they sought to honour her work and, by extension, a point was made on what the short story can do, as opposed to a longer work of fiction. Munro’s stories are so powerful in their incisiveness that to go back to them is to appreciate something new each time. As the critic Michiko Kakutani wrote in the New York Times upon the Nobel announcement, “Set largely in small-town and rural Canada and often focussed on the lives of girls and women, her tales have the swoop and density of big, intimate novels, mapping the crevices of characters’ hearts with cleareyed Chekhovian empathy and wisdom.” There are very few other contemporary writers I can think of, at least among those whose works are available in English, whose short stories have a similar power. There are writers like Ann Beattie and Lydia Davis, both American. And there is, equally, Indian-American Jhumpa Lahiri. With one wistfully expressed thought or observation (for instance, a character nostalgically dunking a biscuit in a cup of tea), her short stories bring alive the entire universe of Indian immigrants in the U.S. in a matter of passages. Lahiri has excelled at many things — her second novel, The Lowland (2013), is among the decade’s best. She has written on the process of writing by learning a new language, Italian, and having that book translated by another into English ( In altre parole to In Other Words ). She has translated from Italian to English, and is currently in the running for the prestigious American National Book Award for her translation of Domenico Starnone’s novel, Trick. But unlike what happens with other writers of remarkable short stories (from Kazuo Ishiguro to Zadie Smith, Haruki Murakami to Anjum Hasan), it’s Lahiri’s shorter fiction (collected in her 1999 debut and Pulitzer Prize-winning book Interpreter of Maladies , and then Unaccustomed Earth almost a decade later) that provides the backdrop to assess her other work. With, say, Murakami, it’s the other way — it really makes sense to know his novels to put his short stories in context.

Source  : https://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-opinion/short-takes-that-count/article25276319.ece

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