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East meets West in “Aerogrammes”

These short stories fill interlude between novels

By Dan Dervin

For The Free Lance-Star

TANIA JAMES’ début novel, “Atlas of Unknowns,”  was widely acclaimed, and readers’ continuing interest is being stoked by the nine stories offered in “Aerogrammes, while awaiting her new work.”

They  are mostly held together by the cultural and generational dissonances of Indians transplanted to the West.  Ancient village customs and values come up against strip malls, public schools and social media.

What is the ideal flesh tone?  Not too dark, not too pale, but the tradeoffs for a happy medium can prove disastrous.

“What to Do with Henry” is the most beguiling of them.  A former Peace corps worker leaves her husband to revisit her past and bring back an adopted girl. Pausing at an open-air market, she spots a baby  chimp in a  basket and it’s love at first sight.   She returns with both “children,” who form a mutual attachment.  Then the chimp Henry must be consigned to a zoo, and his human sibling embarks on a quest for her lost brother.  A beautiful, heart-breaking piece that speaks volumes about our fractious ties with nature.

In the title story, Mr. Paniker,  an elderly Indian parent, has been sequestered by his  on-the-make son at Renaissance Gardens, an assisted living facility he roundly hates.

But as the prospect of joining his son in Queens her contributions to an agency.   She seeks  his advice in reading the lad’s aerogrammes, and Mr. Panker quickly smells a rat.

Their common need for family bonds produces a  surprising sort of resolution.

Dan Dervin  is a freelance writer  in Fredericksburg.


By  Tania James

(Knopf, $24, 192 pp.)


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