In her debut collection Lingering Tide and Other Stories, Latha Viswanathan deftly maps out the uneasy borders created by generation gaps and cultural collisions. In 12 diverse short stories that are set in such locales as India, North America, Philippines, Cambodia and Japan, traditions are challenged, values are questioned and difficult life decisions are made amid the turbulence of uprooted lives. The results are not always seamless.
An engaging and powerful writer, each of Viswanathan’s tales take a different turn, from laugh-out-loud funny to somber and heart-wrenching to profound and thought-provoking. In “Cool Wedding,” readers are offered a candid glimpse into the often hilarious thoughts and observations of a woman born in India raising her family in Texas. Through letters written to her sister back home in “Hinglish,” a hybrid language that combines Hindi and English, the casual references to American popular culture are priceless. For example, in one letter a technologically inclined son of a friend is explained as “You remember from before, they have one showoffy son, always wearing cellular phone, beeper, whole Radio Shack store on his belt.” The style of this story elegantly portrays the blunt and realistic meeting of two cultures in an amusingly animated way.
Eclipse dramatizes cultural conflict and generational strain in a much different manner. An older man from India who came to North America at a later age as an accomplished musician named Sharma has difficulty accepting his teenage son’s musical talents because he believes his son Gopal has not lived long enough to learn to play music with subtleties. But after his initial resistance the father relents, seeing the merits of both youth and the influence Canadian culture has had on him: “Was this the North American way [. . .] not worrying about subtleties, going for rashness, pushing a novice platform?” This hope is also reflected in the title of this story as an eclipse approaches, focus is on the sky and as Sharma appreciates the vastness of the sky, he realizes this is because he looks up more, dares to dream more.
The title story “Lingering Tide” provides an appropriate metaphor for this entire collection of stories. Symbolic of the ebb and flow feeling evoked when reading this book, it is as if the tide rides in and lingers as you read one story and glides back out, only to return as you begin the next one.
Thought-provoking and mesmerizing, this book will challenge you to look behind the storylines and contemplate the very essence of what you value in life.—Noreen Mae Ritsema
Noreen Mae Ritsema is a former rabble.ca intern and regular contributor to the book lounge.
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