Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Quick Sips - Mithila Review #1

I'm pleased to look at the debut issue of the Mithila Review today, which is a home for fiction and poetry from the margins, from the borderlands of imagination, experience, and justice. The issue is a mix of original stories and poetry with reprints of both as well, and as such I have to make a decision about what I'm going to be looking at (my normal policy is to not look at reprints because of time restraints). But as I seem to have a moment and this is the debut issue I'm going to be looking at the reprint fiction and poetry (except the one I already reviewed last year) as well. And, after all, it's all quite good, moving and deep and dense, about resistance and place and violence and resolve. It's all worth checking out, and so that's what I'm going to do. So hold on tight, it's time for some reviews!

Art by Steve McDonald


"Braveheart's Homecoming" by Dilman Dila (4048 words)

This is a story about slavery and control, about servitude and about what is required to escape. It features a man, Dil Bahadur, who as a boy ran away from his servitude in Nepal to make a new life for himself in India. He's a man looking for family and yet trapped by the knowledge that he left his own family behind in Nepal, that family where he came from was a sort of trap, playing into the designs of the owner of the farm they worked on. The master. Because having children put a person and the child further into a debt that they had no hope of paying off. It's a great way of showing how oppression can be maintained completely legally, how people can become trapped. The story does an excellent job of showing how entrenched oppression can be, that every aspect of the system reinforces it, makes it impossible to get out through legal means because the system exists solely to uphold the oppression, and yet by resorting to illegal means Dil Bahadur loses his "respectability," makes himself a criminal and anyone who helps him a criminal. And yet it remains the only way to proceed, and I quite liked how the story explored that idea and how Dil Bahadur tries to take some control back into his life, to make things right, and just how that can go. It's a great story, a mix of action and family guilt and ruthless oppression and complex politics that makes people slaves without calling them slaves. An excellent read!

"Resurrection Points" by Usman T. Malik (6457 words)

Well okay then. To me this is a rather uncomfortable (but very good) story about religion and the dead and the walls people rise. About violence and intolerance and the ways in which people. In the story, Daoud is the son of a man gifted with an ability to work with corpses, to send energy through their bodies to make them move, and it's a gift that Daoud shares. The action of the story is strange and tense, political and religious as the Christian community in a dominant Muslim area finds themselves targets of violence. The story does a great job of building the subtle and not-so-subtle ways that intolerance works, that hatred builds walls. In death, though, the walls are brought down and people are made again a sort of equal. It's that vision that Daoud has, what makes him a compelling character, that he understands corpses better than people, and that he chooses to use his power for the victims of hate. It's a story that builds tragedy on tragedy, that shows the tide against which Daoud wants to work, the pressures to conform and let things go, to be silent and complicit. The story is filled with imagery and symbolism picked from religion: resurrection, stigmata (of a sort), crosses and fires. There's a lot to dig into with the story, which is dense and a bit unsettling. But it works, and the end result is something sinking and powerful and very worth checking out. 


"Triumph VIII: Shakti" and "Epiphyte" by Shweta Narayan

The first poem is great, a bit of advice or wisdom passed from one generation from the next, a counter to the systemic misogyny that is passed along. It's a rebuttal of the idea of inherent femininity, or perhaps a refusal of the idea that a woman's strength is her subservience, her calm and quiet. It goes against all the tone-policing arguments that a woman should not show anger, that a woman's anger is shrill or foolish or powerless. It's the way that men's anger gets privileged, like a woman cannot hurt a man. It's a call against the idea that to be female means to be weak, unable to physically harm a man. That beauty must mean fragility. The poem is sharp, precise, and very vivid, the images of war and power and beauty and the female all combined in a very uplifting manner. The second poem, "Epiphyte," was a bit more difficult for me, personally, though the imagery is again clear and concise and moving. Here the idea of the epiphyte, a plant that grows on another, is used to conceptualize a child, a person grown from another or on another, a sort of changeling almost. Here there is an emphasis on words, on a sharp tongue, the person grown stuck between a nature that is more dangerous/unrestraint and expectations to be less cutting, less abrasive, less confrontational. The last lines of the poem I think sell that, the push to spit out the glass and act like people want and the simultaneous danger and power of refusing, of letting those sharp words have voice and freedom. Together the poems act as a warning and a goad to keep the sharpness, to not forget and not give up, to refuse to submit to injustice or relinquish your power. Which is a great message and one expertly done. Definitely a pair of poems to spend some time with!

"Love Letters" and "September 9, 2012" by Shikha Malaviya

The first of the two poems, "Love Letters," seems to take the image of ancient cave drawings and plays with the idea that they are letters to the future, that what people write now, in stone or on paper, is a similar sort of act. Love letters in that they connect point to point, time to time, that they are to reassure the people future that they have existed, that they have history. To battle against erasure, to battle against migration, forced or otherwise. That feeling of timelessness and yet the press of time, of hurt and conflict. The words that are engraved, that are left behind, are not pretty, are lined in pain, and yet they are important to see, vital to understand. It's the hope that people will look back on them and feel a solidarity. Part of one struggle, to do right, to be better. To hope, yes, but also to try. To constantly push forward, to build the fire even when it hurts, and to never let the fire go out. The second poem, "September 9, 2012" takes on a slightly different theme, though still quite conscious of time and conflict. Here the message is about how conflict connects across distance, a struggle that is many struggle, a voice that is many voices. The coda reveals an elegant power, that image of sameness across so many different places, so many different circumstances. When taken with the first poem, the coda works for both, showing that there are things that link us with the past, with other people around the nations we inhabit, the world we share. The margins and borders that the issue is dealing with peels away here, becomes one fabric pulled up to the chin, one heartbeat in billions of chests. I quite enjoy the feeling of connectedness that these poems manage, that call to push for change, to push for justice. Indeed!

"History of Justice" and "violence enters a poem like a restless wind inside a burning house" by Rohan Chhetri

The first poem, "History of Justice," is a nice, slowly unsettling poem about generational change. The things that shift and the things that stay the same. The story begins in the present and works its way back across the years, from granddaughter to grandmother and the events witnessed out a window, the slowly deepening ugliness and human brutality trending backwards. The way that some things don't change exactly, except they do in most ways that matter. That the conflict out the window in the present is children lighting firecrackers where in the past it was things much more troubling, much more jarring, a history of oppression and of punishment that complicates nicely the justice of the title, that shows a progress, that shows a glimpse at one place and at what it has seen, one family and how it has survived, one people and how they have struggled. It's a touching piece with a great momentum and a devastating ending. The second poem also brings up change and violence, but here it draws a bit more to the idea of geographical borders, a family on the edge of two nations, of revolution and refugees fleeing, being debated, and then being sent back. Again the poem does a very nice job of easing into the more difficult parts, showing the humanity of the situation in the opening lines of domesticity, an older couple going through a quiet moment. To me the story gets at the idea of borders that the issue promised, and shifting tides. The closing stanza is a striking one, a compelling one, showing the cost of policy, the human impact of borders that can seem quite arbitrary, especially in the face of need and death. A very difficult but rewarding pair of poems!

"The Wolfish Woman" by Ajapa Sharma

I read this poem as about women and wolves, about women who are or must become wolves to face the world that is hostile against them. The ways that the world both makes wolves of them and the way in which they take the wolf on themselves, the power of it and the courage, the community and the power of a sudden, violent act. It's that dichotomy of women as wolves, as wolfish, both a sign of empowerment and a sign of being abused. That it is both defense and offensive, as the poem does a beautiful job evoking. That it offers the wolfish woman a place where she belonged, other women who shared her passion, who together made up a pack that was powerful, but that there's a great deal of vulnerability in being alone. That trust is slow and understandably so, that for the wolfish woman of the poem there is a hope of perhaps finding a new place to belong, but that for the moment the focus is on surviving, on tending to wounds but never succumbing to them. And I love that idea of person as wolf, in some ways because it's taking the image of oppression, woman as dog, woman as animal, and reclaiming it as a path to power. That in refusing to deny the analogy of woman as wolf there is power in the image and idea of hunting in packs and alone, in feeling blood well between sharp teeth. That women will not shrink from what they need to be to protect themselves and others. A very nice poem.

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