|Art by Bex Glendining|
It’s time for a new issue of Ananthema! I’m breaking the issue up for I’m-very-tired reasons, but that still means I’m looking at two stories and a poem (I’ll be back for the other three stories and a poem next month). The works are vivid and full of characters willing to take chances. It might be to pursue their dreams. It might be to escape an abusive situation. But the characters are motivated, pushing themselves to exhaustion and beyond, and reaching for something affirming and beautiful. It’s never easy, but getting to the future never is, and the works explore how these characters survive and thrive despite dangers and those that want to see them fail. To the reviews!
“Heard, Half-Heard, in the Stillness” by Iona Datt Sharma (3000 words)
No Spoilers: Ekta’s Dadi can see the future. Kinda. Sorta. Sometimes. And not usually for big things, or at least she doesn’t really talk about those. But for smaller things that touch her family, Dadi can sometimes see the future enough to give small warnings and advice. Like that Ekta’s work would be furloughing her following a rather devastating accidental explosion that gutted most of the command center of the would-be first human space flight out of India. Ekta’s one of the would-be astronauts, something that’s been her dream since she was small. That the program has fallen under the shadow of possible cancellation hits her in some deep ways, and when a friend’s new American wife makes some...indelicate comments, it twists the knife further. The piece is careful and slow, dealing with the phantom of loss and the dangling carrot of knowing the future before it happens. And it manages hope despite a great deal of fear and exhaustion.
Keywords: Space, Astronauts, Accidents, Family, Prophecy
Review: Maybe Augury would be the more accurate keyword. But prophecy I think works too. And I like how the story deals with that, the ways that Ekta wants to know what’s going to happen because this thing means so much to her. And more than just to her. It’s something that people don’t really think India _should_ be doing. At least that’s the implication from the new wife of Ekta’s friend. That India is wasting money even attempting sending a person into space. And yet for Ekta it’s her dream. it’s what’s fueled her. Not because it’s strictly necessary but because it does mean something. Going into space, reaching for the stars, they are symbols and they are practical because a lot of people see the future out there. And what people seem to mean by implying that India shouldn’t try is that it shouldn’t have that future. It’s not wealthy enough, not “advanced” enough when sending a person into space really isn’t about that. It’s about putting in the time and effort. Not giving up when there are setbacks. And I just really like the way that’s captured, from the sort of numbness that seeps into the text, into Ekta following her furlough, to the stubborn anger there as well, her willingness to dump a cup of chai down someone’s back. She’s decisive and not afraid to do something drastic, which is what sort of makes her a good candidate for astronaut. But it doesn’t maybe make her good at waiting, especially when her life’s work dangles by a thread. For me, though, the piece is about reaching for dreams, about rejecting those voices that it’s too soon, that you’re too poor, that you’re not ready. It’s about seeing a future where the stars are already yours and charting a course toward it. And it’s a wonderful read!
“Tiger of the New Moon” by Allison Thai (4775 words)
No Spoilers: Hoa is being beaten by her father, a situation she’s desperate enough to escape that she goes into the jungle on a night with no moon in the sky--a night when the killer tiger normally arrives to kill a single person. So she offers herself to the tiger, who...doesn’t eat her. Who informs Hoa that something about the way she smells makes it so the tiger doesn’t feel like eating anyone. Which means that Hoa has to agree to return to the jungle every lunar cycle or else the tiger will have to feed (something the tiger doesn’t want to do, only she’s under a curse where she has to). The story looks at the situations of both women, the ways they are trapped, the ways they can help each other. It’s wrenching and difficult at times but also lovely and lonely and sweet, and well worth checking out.
Keywords: Tigers, Curses, Flowers, CW- Abuse, Friendship
Review: I like how the story really shows both characters coming to understand the pain the other is going through. That, in many ways, the redemptive power of their relationship comes from Hoa getting the tiger to see beyond her own pain. That the tiger is in a terrible situation, yes, but only as punishment for something that she had done. And that she otherwise still acts selfishly, still really only thinks of herself. Until Hoa. And it’s because of Hoa’s kindness, her compassion, her empathizing with the tiger despite her own pain, that seems to teach the tiger how to see past herself and realize that Hoa needs her help, that as a tiger she has the power to do something about Hoa’s pain. And I just like how that builds, the friendship between the two something fragile and new, neither of them very used to gentle things, to being able to talk and reveal their whole selves. To say what is hurting them and how, to show how they’re trying to do the right thing, but that either is mostly helpless when confronted by their own problem. Hoa cannot get herself out of the abusive household she’s in, and the tiger can’t escape the curse that was put on her. Again, what allows them to actually take charge of something is deciding to do something about the other’s pain, the other’s issue. And by helping, they are helped in turn. The curse is broken, the abuse stops, and both women get to maybe enter into a world where they won’t be in pain all the time, where they won’t be afraid, waiting for the next awful thing to happen. Where they’ll be able to take each other to lean on. It’s a warm and hopeful ending for how grim it might have gone, and I really like the way the two women are able to step out on their own, not knowing what’s next maybe, but knowing that they can meet it together. A great read!
“Hungry Ghost Marriage” by May Chong
This piece speaks to me of traditions and breaking them, of family and absence. It seems to feature a narrator and their partner getting married. At a time or around a time that seems culturally Not Done to have a wedding. A time of hungry ghosts. But both people seem to be cut off from their families, from the kind of wedding that their ancestors would have wanted them to pick. That doesn’t mean their ancestors’ spirits stay away, though, when they hold the ceremony and invite all the ghosts. And for me the act of inviting the ghosts seems to be to bring in this family that isn’t there. Perhaps the family that is distant because of physical space, living in another country, or maybe a family separated by death, where the narrator and their partner are the last alive. Most likely for my reading, though, is that the family is separated by belief, the narrators estranged, alone, filling the space that family would have been with these ghosts who can be their family, if only for the night. Grandparents and in-laws and all the relations that they don’t have. Or have somehow lost. And they sort of flout tradition and taboo here, essentially declaring that they’re going to take something that is seen as bad, as unlucky, as doomed, and make it into something good. A reason to celebrate and be joyous. More, they seem to be redefining or reclaiming the idea of a hungry ghost, or at least of hunger in this sense. For them it seems not some evil or malicious thing, but a kind of passion. A desire to live and live fully, to always want the other person, to spend their lives in that kind of state, never full of each other. It’s a beautiful sentiment that touches on the specters of death of rejection, isolation and violating social norms. And it’s one heck of a party and a fabulous read!