Monday, December 17, 2012

Coloured and Other Stories" by Mohanalakshmi Rajakumar

Coloured and Other StoriesColoured and Other Stories by Mohanalakshmi Rajakumar

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In a slim collection of short stories, the trials and triumphs of life as a South Indian immigrant in the United States are told. A young girl, American educated and Indian born, the only daughter in a family of boys, learns exactly how precious she is to her parents. A young English schooled Indian man learns the stark realities of racism in a Texas bar. A young woman feels so racially intimidated that even warming up her curry in the workplace microwave becomes a daily fear for her. A new bride struggles with the stigma of being childless and the temptation of forbidden American men.

Each story carries its own distinct flavor and protagonist, weaving its prose into your heart without using extreme shock tactics or exploiting easy avenues like shaming white Americans or spitting upon life within a conservative Indian family. Yes racism happens in some of the stories, to varying degrees, sometimes violent but mostly of the cold condescending sort that is quite familiar to anyone of color who has had to endure it in school or at work. (It's a sort of racism that the perpetrators often do not realize they're inflicting, one I am quite familiar with experiencing and actually am quite delighted to see so accurately portrayed in some of these stories.) Yes, also, there are stories portraying an Indian protagonist feeling a level of embarrassment at their own culture, yearning for their families to "be more American" so they would fit in better with their peers, but there is no hint of whining self pity about it. It's part of what makes each of these stories so very readable and approachable. It's possible to sympathize with these characters without feeling put on the spot, or judgmental of them.

I can't say I felt let down by any of these stories. In fact, these are the sort of stories I would liked to have read as a teenager. I felt a distinct kinship with the protagonists in the stories "Food" and "Down". It about brought tears to my eyes at memories of similar experiences, yet neither story is about an "us against them" pity party with no solution, but instead highlights the strength of finding one's own character within the trial. I do have to say "Dasi" and "Truth" hit me in the gut hardest and are probably the two most emotionally staggering stories of the group.

None of these stories rings "false" or "forced". They are honest and filled with characters you can root for or are at least fascinated with. I would not mind reading these stories over again and I recommend them to anyone who is in the mood for a good intelligent and eye opening read.

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