Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Quick Sips - Mithila Review #2

The second issue of Mithila Review is out and it's even bigger than the first, with three stories and eight poems and a slew of nonfiction content (that I'm not reviewing here but recommend you check out). Like with the first issue much of these pieces are reprints but as I hadn't read any of them I decided to once again review all the fiction and poetry regardless. At some point I might drop down to just the original content but for now I'm quite enjoying the publication, it's position on the border of things, exploring visions of life at the border. It's an impressive collection of creative work, and I'm going to get to those reviews!

Art by Britney Schmidt And Dead Pixel Fx, University Of Texas At Austin


"Sanjeev and Robotwallah" by Ian McDonald (6611 words)

This is a great story about conflict and war and what it can do to people, especially young people. It’s a story of Sanjeey growing up, from a boy in school in a town that gets utterly destroyed save for the people to him in the city, navigating the shifting loyalties of childhood, the hero worship of the mech-pilots and his growing apprehension of what war is and what is left in its wake. It’s a story primarily about how war is packaged to young men, how it is sold, as cool and romantic and glorious. And it mixes to great effect the glamour of giant fighting robots with the realities of war, the atrocities and dirt and ugliness, the aggression it teaches the pilots, the way that it turns outward in all directions, the way that Sanjeey still is drawn to it, even as he grows to understand it better, to realize what it is and to realize how destructive on a personal level it is as well as on a larger scale. The drama unfolds slowly, and for a story with giant mech there isn’t a whole lot of action, but the story does what it does very well, showing where the danger lies, how the way works. It’s about disenfranchisement and aspiration, about the culture of war and the culture of peace and how incompatible they are. And through Sanjeey’s eyes the veil of childhood is slowly pulled away and reality slowly settles in. And it’s a story that works quite well as adult and YA, because it’s focused on young people, on how war and trauma shape them, and how some grow and learn and some remain unable to get past their experiences. In the end the story is gripping and powerful and a great read!

"Valley of Tears" by Rabi Thapa (2928 words)

This is an interesting story especially in the context given in the short foreword by the author. Perhaps because I’m rather interested in “Millennial fiction,” this story has a lot in common with Millennial depictions globally (an almost hopeful view of disaster and apocalypse and a wish in some ways to cut through the entrenched institutions of oppression to get some second chance). The story is stark and drastic in its scope, a depiction of a storm of such proportion so as to completely wipe out a valley of people. Millions dead or fled. And a sad characterization of what the response would be, the ineffectualness of the government of Nepal to meet the challenge, to save lives. The way it all falls apart as people flee, as things collapse. The foreword gives this destruction purpose, and in some ways it’s a much more honest kind of Millennial story than ones that focus on opting out, though it is very much tied to that. Because the hope here is for something to happen that in many ways would “fix” things. Not in a good way exactly but as a way to wipe the slate clean without having to try and navigate around people and powers so entrenched and so dedicated to upholding their own wealth and privilege. That this becomes the frustrating reality, that it would take such an epic flood to be able to reach a point where the people could start again. Not to reach a good situation, but to just possess a place to start from. Somewhere that effort can be productive and people can actually get a second chance without having to cater to the powers that be. It’s a moving story and an incredibly sad one, filled with a desire for change and a defiant cry that this would be the only way things would change. The point being that maybe, if people see it, they’ll be more motivated to change before such an event occurs. It’s a excellently rendered story and one that complicates nicely my own observations and understanding of Millennial fiction. So go read it!

"The Adventure" by Jayant Vishnu Narlikar (7737 words)

The What If? story is a class if SFF and is pulled off to delightful effect here, Professors Gaitonde accidentally crossing over into a world where India head never seen full British rule. Where the course of history had gone very, very differently. From the outcome of one battle, from the outcome of one shot, the entire world is changed and an era of slavery and exploitation never took place. It’s a rather shocking shift, in part because the point of What If? stories is often how much worse things could have been. How the main character must fight to get back to a place that is familiar and safe. And here there is a similar thread but it concerns the way that presentations and lectures go, the need for a chair, someone to preside over it. And in that moment the Professor falls into something of a trap, caught in the tradition and situation he came out of, believing that oversight is necessary, that he becomes someone striving to put in place that people cannot rightly govern themselves (even if it is with regards to lectures and such). And the story just captures that classic feel and everything just works so well together, the tone and the nature of the main character, that he is so concerned about his being chair of so many things and then the ending. Really it’s a cute story with this great amount of not-cute stuff going on just under the surface, a call to examine what lasting effects history has had and why certain customs are held onto and how things might have been different. It’s a good story with a lot of interesting touches and a slow build. Another great story! 


"Abandon Normal Instruments" and "Cloud Wall" by Arkady Martine

The first of the two poems is a strange one, filled with fragments and fits, images clipped and yet a feeling of transformation. It’s something of an advice poem as I read it, a poem about someone having been given advice. On writing. On what to do and what not to do. And deciding, ultimately, to throw away the rules. To ignore the advice that says no, don’t do it that way. To break conventions even when they are your own. Most of the poem, after all, takes place observing someone else. A teacher or peer, perhaps, and perhaps someone who is gone. The last brings the poem to the strickingly personal, to the breaking down of writing and narrator and reader and getting to a place that is full of meaning. It’s an interesting and enjoyable poem. And the strangeness continues into the second poem, which is more a sort of ode to a city, to the feel of being there and in love with a place that is cold and distant and in some ways uncaring. And yet there is a haunting beauty to it and to the narrator’s depiction of it, caught up in falling and cold and the possibility of being crushed utterly. The poem describes the city as inhuman, not necessarily a monster but simply something so different, on a scale so much larger, that the love depicted here is strange and in some ways destructive, that the narrator’s love is almost hopeless and almost better hopeless, because the implications of catching the attention of a city, of becoming it’s bride, is a rather frightening one. Both poems are filled with images that unsettle, language that provokes. They are arresting and quite an experience!

"The Epilogue of Flight 714" by Arjun Rajendran

Uh…okay, this here is a poem that I probably need a bit more context to completely understand fully but as I’m not on the internet as I write this review I’m just going to go with it. The title immediately evokes a plane crash for me, because I feel in many ways that flights are only remembered for crashes, that otherwise naming a flight is vaguely bad luck, and here that idea of a plane crashing is reinforced in subtle moments of stunning destruction, the mention of Tungusta, that last line of heat and destruction so intense that a person is rendered into soap. There’s also a certain amount of nostalgia in the poem, though obviously not really looking fondly back on a time period (the rabies vaccine, the child marriage—this is pointing back with a keen eye to see a beauty and some deeply troubling things, to create this moment of magic and tragedy with an aim of cutting through the romance of it. And yet also capturing this moment of collision, of someone on a burning plane touching the stars, of an image that is difficult and unsettling and it’s a searing vision, a tragedy and a moment that people remember. That moment that sort of defines a generation and a moment. Always tragedies. It’s a lingering poem, the last line that reaching back, not for the realities of the past but the simplicity of a narrative, an image, a person. Or I could be way off. I get rather insecure about interpreting stories without background but I don’t really let it stop me, either. It’s probably quite telling what references I get and which I don’t but hopefully I got somewhere near the mark. So this is what I got out from it, and I did quite enjoy it. So yeah!

"Bug Season" by Bharat Iyer

I love how this poem treats sickness, treats a plague or an epidemic as a sort of monstrous Bug that terrorizes the world. Taking the most marginalized first but then moving on to bigger targets, bigger targets. Turning people against people in their fear, so that everyone sees everyone as a possible carrier, as a possible source of infection. The quote at the beginning of the piece sets that up quite nicely and the poem delivers a series of more and more dire stanzas, the descent of someone into a sickness, through the denial that might have it and therefore to the fact that they were a carrier themselves, that in insisting that they didn’t have it, by ignoring the symptoms, they only succeeded at infecting more people. In carrying on the sickness. So in many ways it’s about society ignoring the Bug while it swept through the lowest, the most vulnerable. About the world ignoring all it’s problems, seeing other people as dirty, as undeserving of a hand reached out in aid for fear that some sort of contamination will occur when the sickness is spreading regardless, that the only thing that could help would be to stop it early, to come together, but everyone insists that staying apart is best, and so it grows, and spreads, and those could-have-beens pile up and burn. It’s a lovely poem and a vivid layering of disease and sickness. Another one to definitely check out!

"Rai Parveen Mahal, Orchha" by Priya Sarukkai Chabria

This poem combines history and art and oppression and strength in a rather moving way, examining a woman from history and the way she moved through the world, the way she was depicted, and the way that she must have lived. There’s a romanticism of court life but also an examination about how women with power are often portrayed. The poem takes a rather nicely subtle track, telling a story with people telling stories, using artifacts. A tour, an anecdote, a series of empty rooms, a bit of defaced artwork. That buried underneath it seems to be a woman powerful enough to defy an Emperor and yet everything about her revolves around her beauty, her body, the ways that put her back into the boxes that don’t seem sufficient to contain her. That there is such rage that she should exist, that she should stand and be defiant, rage that defaces her art, that tries to confine her. And yet there is this undercurrent throughout, this unspoken story that is felt, that comes through. That there is something obscured there that is being glimpsed, bits of truth that want to be realized, that have been silenced, and in their place this narrative that doesn’t quite live up to it. To me it’s a longing poem about history, about the way that it pulses, and the way the way it is influenced by the present. An excellent piece!

"What is the maiden name of Frankenstein’s creature?" and "I am Korean American" by  Seo-Young Chu

To me the first poem is about trivia, and about reducing art and history (but mostly art) to the trivia questions, to the level of “who’s the bigger nerd?” That people lose sight of the purpose of art when they make it about the minutia, about the questions that might not even have questions, and if they do whose questions might not really matter. Because the questions aren’t really what the art is about. The name of the sword name of the flower name of the man whose death is foretold are not really what we should be paying attention to, and certainly not what we should be gatekeeping because of. And that’s a huge part of it, that these sorts of questions are used to determine who knows and who does not, who is worthy and who is not, and the poem, a dense brick of questions, seems to me to really be questioning why people spend so much time on these trivia questions when the real point is the art and how it provokes us. How is destroys us and leaves us stronger. The second poem seems much more personal to me, really capturing the Mithila Review theme of living at the border, because it examines cultural identity. Family identity. Linguistic identity. It looks at the feeling of loss, of displacement, of being different and cut off and part of a diaspora. And it's a great poem that works in a lot of non-Romance characters, non-English words and ideas, that challenges what it means not only to be Korean in America but to be Korean American, which is a line the poem traces with a gentle assertiveness, full of doubt but also of a growing power, a power of discovery. The narrator is engaged in trying to define themself, and does so almost ponderously, but thoroughly, tracing the lines of their being, their mind, cataloguing their languages, their experiences, drawing a map of themselves, which is as close as they can come to explaining who they are. It's a powerful piece with a nice humor and a deep layering of meaning. And it's an excellent read!

No comments:

Post a Comment