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The Meagre Tarmac [Paperback]

Clark Blaise

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Book Description

May 1 2011
Shortlisted for the 2011 Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize

2011 Scotiabank Giller Prize Nominee

Longlisted for the Frank O'Connor Short Story Award

An Indo-American Canterbury Tales, The Meagre Tarmac explores the places where tradition, innovation, culture, and power meet with explosive force. It begins with Dr. Vivek Waldekar, who refused to attend his father's funeral because he was "trying to please an American girl who thought starting a fire in his father's body too gross a sacrilege to contemplate." It ends with Pranab Dasgupta, the Rockefeller of India, who can only describe himself as "'a very lonely, very rich, very guilty immigrant.'" And in between is a cluster of remarkable characters, incensed by the conflict between personal desire and responsibility, who exhaust themselves in pursuit of the miraculous. Fearless and ferociously intelligent, these stories are vintage Blaise, whose outsider's view of the changing heart of America has always been ruthless and moving and tender.

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"Top work from a master storyteller and border-crosser ... a gem of a book."—Margaret Atwood

"Blaise is probably the greatest living Canadian writer most Canadians have never heard of."—Quill & Quire

"The Meagre Tarmac is a naked instance of appropriation of voice—a literary felony justified in this case by the results."—Philip Marchand, National Post

"On the leading edge of world literature."—John Barber, Globe and Mail

"What holds the collection together is Blaise's mastery of the short story, his ability to give us a whole personality and the sensuous particularity of lived experiences in a handful of pages."—Steven Hayward, Globe and Mail

"It is the cultural, geographical, and historical scope of the stories that most impresses ... wickedly subtle ... this book is anything but meagre."—Toronto Star

"As good a collection as any I’ve read."—Montreal Gazette

"A collection greater than the sum of its formidable parts."—Montreal Gazette

"Not to be forgotten ... is Clark Blaise's collection The Meagre Tarmac, wherein a writer's writer excelled himself and got more attention than he has received in a long time, though still not as much as he deserves."—Montreal Gazette

"Masterpiece. That's a big word. In 20 years of writing book reviews I don't think I've ever used it, but I'm throwing the dart at The Meagre Tarmac."—The Underground Book Club

"You know it's going to be a stellar year for fiction when Clark Blaise publishes something. The Meagre Tarmac ... demonstrates yet again that Blaise is one of the continent's master authors."—Uptown(Winnipeg)

"Clark Blaise’s brilliantly imagined The Meagre Tarmac is a novel in short-story form, warmly intimate, startling in its quick jumps and revelations, a portrait of individuals for whom we come to care deeply – and a portrait of an Indo-American way of life that shimmers before our eyes with the rich and compelling detail for which Clark Blaise’s fiction is renowned .… The Meagre Tarmac is a remarkable accomplishment."—Joyce Carol Oates

About the Author

Clark Blaise (1940-), Canadian and American, is the author of 20 books of fiction and nonfiction. A longtime advocate for the literary arts in North America, Blaise has taught writing and literature at Emory, Skidmore, Columbia, NYU, Sir George Williams, UC-Berkeley, SUNY-Stony Brook, and the David Thompson University Centre. In 1968, he founded the postgraduate Creative Writing Program at Concordia University; he after went on to serve as the Director of the International Writing Program at Iowa (1990-1998), and as President of the Society for the Study of the Short Story (2002-present). Internationally recognized for his contributions to the field, Blaise has received an Arts and Letters Award for Literature from the American Academy (2003), and in 2010 was made an Officer of the Order of Canada. Blaise now divides his time between New York and San Francisco, where he lives with his wife, American novelist Bharati Mukherjee.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.3 out of 5 stars  7 reviews
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A superb novel disguised as a short story collection Aug. 1 2011
By Michael Herschel - Published on
I will not go into specific details on stories or subject matter, as other reviewers have already done to great effect. But I will say this, I cannot recall any collection of short stories affecting me more than The Meagre Tarmac. This is not the first collection of Blaise's short fiction I've bought, but this is the first I have ever felt compelled to read from start to finish in sequence--AND then follow up with a review. That's how much I loved this book.

If you can imagine a short story collection that's actually a page-turner, this is it. I am not sure how the author pulled it off, but from the first story to the last, there is a momentum that carries the reader forward. All in all, a terrific read on several emotional levels, from touching to laugh-out-loud funny. It has moved to the top of my list as the best novel I have read in quite awhile. Yes, "novel". Because that is the impact of this surprising, insightful and always entertaining collection. The stories and characters will remain with you for a very long time and in a very good way. Anyone who has read and savored Rohinton Mistry, Bharati Mukherjee or Arundhati Roy should add Clarke Blaise to their reading list.

If you've read Blaise before, The Meagre Tarmac is a must. If you've never read his work or even heard of him, The Meagre Tarmac is a superb starting point. Highly recommended.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars short stories that knock you out June 30 2011
By Amy Henry - Published on
"Despite external signs of satisfaction, good health, a challenging job, the love and support of family and friends, no depressions or mood swings, no bad habits, I would not call myself happy. I am well-adjusted. We are all extremely well-adjusted. I believe my situation is not uncommon among successful immigrants of my age and background."

Clark Blaise has created a short story collection (a few of which are linked) that explores the world of first-generations immigrants from India who now reside in the West. Most are financially successful, and are often working in the business sector of computers and banking. Extensive education in India and in London makes allows many of these immigrants to surpass the abilities of their American co-workers. Yet as the quote above reveals, high wages and business savvy do not ensure happiness.

Ties to India and family remain firm, even though their new culture has a hard time understanding the connection. A sense of family and standing within the family is underscored in many of these stories, and much of this is due to two factors: the traditions of inheritance and arranged marriage. In the case of inheritance, oldest sons seem blessed by getting most of the family wealth. To be a younger brother means continually fighting for a fair share. In many cases, extended family live together in India; sometimes, one part of each family has just a room of their own, and are subject to the whims of the senior son. In one story, a successful and mild physician at work turns into a plotting madman at home, scheming to get rid of the older brother by lawsuit or darker means.

Arranged marriages are a fascinating part of the story, especially in that even a very successful Indian businessman can feel a need to replicate the tradition and marry one of his "own" despite numerous opportunities to marry anyone he wants. Children too, of first-generation parents have their own battles. Raised in the US, they don't understand the traditions while their parents desperately want to keep their children out of harm's way. They look back to India as a place of innocence and control.

In one story, a successful Pac Bell engineer is worried by his ice-skating progidy daughter (who has her own secrets). The sure answer to him is for them to return to India, but her objections raise entirely new issues for the family to deal with. Many of the stories remind me of the style of Ha Jin's A Good Fall, which dealt with Chinese immigrants in New York. Respectability and behavior are far more important to many immigrants than they are to long-time citizens.

Another story has a hugely successful banker seeking a Parsi bride, even being middle-aged, his mother is still nagging at him to find the proper Parsi wife that will honor the family, a tough search given only about 50,000 Parsis are left. His search leaves him questioning his own beliefs and what exactly makes for a solid relationship.

Partition, castes, progress and family honor are all explored in this fascinating book that I wish had been longer. Blaise ends many stories with a question...leaving the reader to imagine the ending. I didn't mind that, but I'd love to see some of these characters again. Especially intriguing is how many of the immigrants return home regularly, offering financial assistance and with an open mind to permanently return. This was a surprise to me, as it seems that once people get acclimated to a new region, the past represents too many limits. I was also intrigued by a point made in one of the early stories that Indian transplants do not form social societies here in the US, such as other races do. Little Tokyo and Chinatown may be a way for some Asians to recreate a social and culture center here, while Indo-Americans resist unifying in social groups.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant storytelling June 10 2011
By Peter M. Alexander - Published on
These are wonderful stories by someone who understands the clash of cultures from the ground up. Blaise creates characters who embody their cultures without being mere puppets or stand-ins for ethnic or cultural characteristics. Instead they are complex, well rounded human beings. The brilliant thing is that through this complexity we can all recognize some part of ourselves in people that are even in most ways very different from ourselves. This is highly recommended.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Wonderful Book, A Great Read Aug. 23 2011
By Matthew W. Jordan - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I loved this book by Clark Blaise, a writer who is seriously under-appreciated in the United States.

The social and emotional state of an immigrant population who came to this country with hope, and whose hopes were in many cases wildly exceeded, who now, by those serpentine accidents of history and geopolitics, look back at their homeland not merely out of nostalgia but out of missed economic and social opportunity, is an extraordinarily timely and relevant narrative. Blaise tells that story in The Meagre Tarmac beautifully, through his considerable writerly skill and his care for his characters.
5.0 out of 5 stars The Meagre Tarmac by Clark Blaise April 3 2013
By Caroline Woodward - Published on
This collection of short, linked stories is one of the very best collections I've ever read. It's one of those books I read over eight days, rationing out the wonderful experience. Then I read it all over again in one day. A master class in writing short fiction with fascinating characters and locations. Brilliant. I'd given it to my husband for Christmas and after reading it myself, I ordered three more copies for friends, always the sign of a great book, the compulsion to share, to say: you MUST read this book!

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