short stories

Photo of Singapore by William Cho used under a Creative Commons license.

Claire Tham, The Gunpowder Trail and Other Stories (Times Editions, 2003).
A collection of six stories, not exactly short but shorter than novellas, so let’s call them short stories, from a Singaporean author, five of which are set at least in partly in Singapore.  Tham’s characters come from all walks of life, but many of them have a self-destructive bent, and all collide with the confines of social mores.

Xinying Hong wrote this bio of Tham. Here’s an excerpt. Neil Murphy calls the collection very well crafted and engaging. Sign up for a free trial and you can read Peter Nazareth’s review (or this free trial) (and you can tell me what it says). Lars Eckstein (English literatures across the globe: a companion) praises Tham’s acute perception of the idiosyncracies of Singaporean culture. The book was shortlisted for the 2004 Singapore Literature Prize. In her other life, Tham is a partner at a Singapore law firm.

Photo of Amsterdam by MorBCN used under a Creative Commons license.

Manfred Wolf, ed., Amsterdam: A Traveler’s Literary Companion (Whereabouts Press, 2001).
A collection of short pieces, fiction and otherwise, set in Amsterdam and organized by neighborhoods and themes.  Much of this volume appears in English for the first time.  I particularly liked Geert Mak’s account of hanging around Centraal Station at night, and Marion Bloem’s memoir of a Jordaan childhood, but there are no duds here.

Here’s the publisher’s page, and here’s more about Wolf. It’s on National Geographic’s list of recommendations for the city.

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Peking - I Love You
Image by Nod Young used under a Creative Commons license.

Jonathan Tel, The Beijing Of Possibility (Other Press, 2009).
This collection of short stories is not just set in the Chinese capital, it is of and about the city. Tel’s Beijing is a city is close to the country, in a China which is not far from the West, and set in modern times which do not leave the past behind. Tel is fascinated by the different lives which come together in the city, by the forks which bring people to where they are now and the turns in which lives are changed and left behind — by all of Beijing’s possibilities. This Beijing is populated by messengers in gorilla suits and pick-pockets, opera composers and buskers, executives and factory workers. The disparate strands are tied together in the last story through a clever device, an effective bit of playfulness that seemed neither contrived nor obtrusive. The stories also are accompanied by Tel’s black-and-white photographs of Beijing.

Via Scott Esposito, here is one excerpt (Zoetrope)and here is another (if that link doesn’t work, try this one), and another. Terry says Tel’s Beijing is a vast, unknowable stage where opposites clash. Mark H. says Tel takes the everyday mundane life of typical Beijing residents and shares their dreams, humour and irony. L. Dean Murphy says it captures the essence of China’s rapid change. Simon Fowler says Tel’s writing shows a subtle and playful humour, and a sense of Chinese history and culture.  Barbara Ardinger says these stories are hypnotic. Jonathan Shock calls the stories windows into the split second pieces of action you see every day on the streets of any big city, and adds that in Beijing you know that the truth is much more interesting than what your imagination can muster. Publisher’s Weekly calls it a glimpse into the complicated, vibrant world of Beijing. Matthew Jakubowski interviewed Tel for The Quarterly Conversation. Here are questions for discussion and the publisher’s reader’s guide. Tel talks about taking the photographs which accompany the stories. Marshal Zeringue caught up with Tel, who’s been reading about China.

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Cloud theater
Photo by dsearls used under a Creative Commons license.

Laura Hendrie, Stygo (Scribner, 1995).
Nine interconnected stories sent in a (fictional) town in Bent County, in southeast Colorado.  This is the Colorado of the Great Plains,a small town surrounded by fields of sugar beets and corn. Everyone dreams of leaving, but few break away.

Google BookSearch gives you a preview — you can read the first two stories, “Stygo At Night” and “Armadillo.” This librarian (Judy?) in Salida, Colorado, was thoroughly impressed. Jessica Dineen (Ploughshares) says Hendrie describes a bleak town and its inhabitants with astoundingly beautiful clarity. The Colonel stakes his reputation as a reader on it. In the Boston Review, Hendrie reviewed fiction by Kent Haruf, also set in eastern Colorado. This fellow chauffeured Hendrie around Tucson.

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Bungy Jump
Photo of Queenstown by Kinho Pizzato used under a Creative Commons license.

Marion McLeod & Bill Manhire, eds., Some Other Country (Bridget Williams Books, 1997).
An anthology of short stories from New Zealand. The earliest story here is “At the Bay,” by Katherine Mansfield (1922), and other well-known authors here include Janet Frame and Frank Sargeson, but the collection is weighted to more recent stories. Maori authors here include Witi Ihimaera, Janet Frame and Keri Hulme (and of course there’s no shortage of Pākehā authors).

This book has little internet presence, alas. Here’s a list of New Zealand short story writers from the Christchurch City Libraries. Here is a long profile of Katherine Mansfield. Alan K. Grant says there are only six kinds of New Zealand short stories. Despite its name, this YouTube clip doesn’t have anything to do with the book.

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Photo of Quercy by edem56 used under a Creative Commons license.

M.S. Merwin, The Lost Upland (Shoemaker & Hoard, 2004).
Writing about Southwestern France in Salon’s Literary Guide to the World, Sarah Karnasiewicz writes:

Though Gascony and the Dordogne remain far less traveled than most of southern France, their anachronistic beauties have not gone entirely unnoticed by foreigners. In the 1950s, the renowned American poet W.S. Merwin bought a ruined house in the rural province of Quercy and has spent decades getting to know not only his neighbors but also the ghosts that hover over every town and valley in the countryside. . . . Merwin has emerged as one of the most prominent English-language chroniclers of the region’s people and patois. “The Lost Upland,” a semi-autobiographical collection of three short stories, combines Merwin’s inimitable eye for poetic natural detail with a keen attention to the quirks and constants of life in a small village. What emerges is a portrait of a place and people both blessed and burdened by the weight of history, and an exploration of what it means to be an eternal outsider.

Here is Google Book Search, with an excerpt, etc. Here is a bio of Merwin. Ginger Danto reviewed it in The New York Times. Peter Davison, The Atlantic‘s poetry editor, wrote in 1997 about Merwin’s career. Dinitia Smith profiled Merwin in The New York Times in 1995. Karen Moline stayed at Merwin’s house overlooking the Dordogne River. Like Merwin, Helen Martin has been in the Lot.

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Photo of Hawai’i street art by dubside used under a Creative Commons license.

Cedric Yamanaka, In Good Company (University of Hawai’i Press, 2002).
Short stories set in the Hawai’i most visitors never see, in billiards halls and basketball courts and bowling alleys and drive-ins. Yamanaka’s characters live on the troubled side of paradise, where dreams keep outpacing reality, and where life is messier than the postcards of Diamond Head.

Here is Google Book Search, with a preview and other creamy goodness. Wanda A. Adams (Honolulu Advertiser) recommended it as one of the best books of 2002. I can’t tell whose review this is. Nadine Kam profiled Yamanaka for the Honolulu Star-Bulletin. Honolulu Weekly had this to say when the book came out. It says here that Yamanaka, previously a TV news reporter, became the Governor’s press secretary. That didn’t stop him from writing this piece for Honolulu Magazine about ghost stories.

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