Karma and Other Stories Paperback – Mar 2007
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From Publishers Weekly
Set primarily in Boston and its suburbs, Reddi's debut focuses on individuals and families struggling to reconcile their Indian diaspora backgrounds with American life, while attempting to preserve their small, at times contentious ethnic communities. Often generational differences are the root of conflict—in "Bangles," a successful American doctor tries to fulfill his duty by bringing his newly widowed mother from Hyderabad to his upscale suburban home, but fails to make space in his young family's life for her religious and cultural needs. In "The Validity of Love," a rebellious but fragile young woman must examine the extent to which she's internalized traditional ideas of Indian marriage when her best friend willingly enters into an arranged engagement. In other cases, the conflict is an economic one: in the title story, unemployed Shankar Balareddy, frustrated and angered by his younger brother's callous success, searches for redemption from a youthful misdeed. While her themes are familiar, Reddi deftly employs images to crystallize them: a set of red glass bracelets smashed with a rock, a wounded bird confused by Boston's skyscrapers, even a bean-and-cheese burrito, all call to mind the isolation and occasional bewilderment shared by her sympathetic characters. (Mar.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
This excellent debut collection is deceptively easy to read. The stories of Indian Americans navigating their way through two cultures can be read in one or two sittings, but they deserve to be pored over slowly. Each story manages to include information about Indian culture, without seeming remotely pedantic or expository. The details make the stories specific to Indians, but the emotions and characters make the stories universal. A teenager tries to gain his father's protection, while also asserting himself. A devoted wife and mother struggles to find her own identity. A hip twentysomething copes with her best friend's upcoming marriage and her own failed relationship. A great recommendation not only for fans of Jhumpa Lahiri's The Namesake (2004) but also for fans of F. Scott Fitzgerald's elegant studies of a culture that is both familiar and foreign. Marta Segal Block
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Certainly, Reddi adeptly captures a range of voices, from that of an indignant elderly ex-judge who can't accept the smallest slight, to a young teenage boy trying to fit into his white-bread Midwestern school, and all manner of husbands, wives, and aunties in between, including a fully assimilated 20something woman. This is accomplished without trotting out a kitchen sink's worth of cultural touchstones, which is a welcome change from so much writing of this kind (although food, traditional dance, and clothing all play small roles in setting various scenes, and contrary to several reviewers, arranged marriage does play a central role in one story, and is a key factor in a few others).
However, by the end, I didn't feel particularly enriched by the book. The immigrant experience is central to American literature, and I had a difficult time finding anything new or through-provoking in these stories. They're all well-written, and each has its moments of nice imagery or subtlety of tone, but there was nothing fresh to grab me -- rather, they felt like well-executed versions of a well-trod genre. Published individually in other publications (as, I believe they were, although there's nothing indicating this anywhere in the book), I can see the stories standing out more and having a greater impact, but side-by-side, they start to blur and blend.
Overall, it's a good collection. The stories and characters are easily identified and you begin to get a feeling of the Indian-American culture. I think my favorite stories were probably "Bangles" and "The Validity of Love" just because you saw the characters grow from beginning to end.
I didn't give the collection five stars because certain things do become repetitive and the stories lose momentum. But if you are a fan of short stories and/or cultural fiction, this is a good collection to read.
Each story is about people, with the same motivations and conflicts that most of us can identify with. The lenses we see those conflicts through are different, but it just helps to give a different perspective, and see how much alike people are deep down inside.
The need of an elder for respect; the conflict between duty and desire for a path; the interaction beween husband and wife who have grown a little distant and are trying to figure out what's wrong; the failure of people to fit into others' preconceived roles for them.
The fact that they're mostly set in Lexington, MA, in a particular Americanized ethnic community serves more to highlight the commonality than set apart the cultures.
I think the study of people is fun and interesting. If you do, too, then this is a really great book.