I am discovering a litany of South Asian female writers, from the much-loved Jhumpa Lahiri and her Pulitzer-Prize winning collection of short stories, Interpreter of Maladies, and recently, the Fatima Farheen Mirza’s brilliant debut novel, A Place For Us. Being Indian myself, it is refreshing to see the emergence of these writers documenting their stories in gorgeous, intelligent prose. I am thrilled to announce Akil Kumarasamy with her debut collection of ten short stories entitled Half Gods among their ranks.
Kumarasamy’s ten stories tell the loosely interconnected lives of immigrants, people displaced by the civil war in Sri Lanka, a Chinese neighbor, and many others. Myriad viewpoints in character and perspective– bouncing between first, second, and third person– and an interesting cast of characters elucidates Kumarasamy’s deep wisdom in exploring the lives of many different kinds of people. You feel as though she knows more than she ought to know about subtle suffering, disorder, displacement– but there is a viscerality to the characters that makes them all real.
This is how I felt at Literati while Kumarasamy read a short story from her collection. The story she’d read was written in the second person, which gave it a sense of being fragmented; it felt like we knew a whole lot about the main character without ever learning their gender or name. It was a skilled use of the second person, as her character was an actor and the perspective amplified the effect of him in a mask. Kumarasamy’s language hones in on the physical details and nuances of the world around her, and looks at the world with almost godly eyes– as though consequences and actions are rendered as one. Her work is lyric– poetic– rich. Divinely so.
And yet, I felt occasionally that there were aesthetic niceties that strained the story. This is perhaps a matter of personal preference, and I have not read but two stories in the collection. At least during the reading, I felt sometimes disconnected from the character and story. I think this may be because I didn’t have the text of the story in front of me and I had to rely solely on oration– sometimes that can be tricky with stories rich in language and content.
Kumarasamy read one story at the reading. I wish she could have read more. I wanted to compare a second person story to one of her other stories, as I feel like a second person story is a category of its own.
When Akil Kumarasamy releases her next book, I await to read it– I’m interested in the projection of this writer’s career and the literary feats she will accomplish. She’s released a stunning debut, acclaimed by the New York Times, the New Yorker, USA Today, and I’m sure anything she has yet to make will stir the literary community.