Empathetic, insightful short stories

Rupa Maitra
Steele Roberts

University of Otago graduate, pathologist and professional musician Rupa Maitra is also a very talented writer. This collection of short stories cover an impressive range of subjects.

"The Two Aunties" is a delightful tale of a Bengali family, some members of which have settled in New Zealand. It portrays ways of life and eccentricities that resist change when transferred into a new country.

Similar cultural disjunctions haunt "Fakibaj".

"Sideways" is a most impressive first-person narrative of depression compounding to madness.

"Pippa" paints a picture of a long-suffering childminder’s chaotic life working for a busy modern family. She is only really understood by her unruly charges.

In "Prophecies" we get a glimpse of life on the road for a string quartet with domestic problems dogging their minds as they try to juggle rigid schedules.

"Cinderella"focuses on an orchestra tackling the rigours of the spiky ballet music of Prokofiev.

The multi-tasking modern mother is a repeated theme in the collection and the focus of "White Noise".

Throughout, Maitra’s prose is jagged with short sentences, vividly contrasting phrases. There is a restlessness in the language itself, the interjection of memories briefly alive before vanishing, a purposeful narrative that will not stay still long enough to allow clarity to emerge, because that is the way life is.

This quotidian chaos cannot, however, drown out real pain and suffering: the doctor who made a clinical mistake she cannot live with; relationships that no longer function; impossible affections that will not die; a professor unmasked after a life of deceit; a wife suddenly realising that her dead husband was in a long-term relationship with another woman; sexual abuse at a wedding.

Throughout the very dark truths there are flashes of humour, with brighter coloured patches of human warmth that help to elevate, to enrich this collection.

This is a significant debut of a serious writer who deserves our attention.

Peter Stupples, now living in Wellington, used to teach at the University of Otago.

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