Silhouettes of Time
by Maya Mitra Das
Inks & Bindings 

"She could not take the deception of living sheltered in the family when the rest of the country was in serious trouble."

This compilation consists of ten short stories plus the five-part title story. Set in various locations in India and the United States, the tales are based on family stories Das heard as a child. She takes readers on a fascinating journey in which characters, faced with trials and tribulations, must rely on inner strength to survive.

Some of the stories concern heart-wrenching episodes of murder in 1940s India. Others are set in northern California and South Carolina. One even tells of the history of the famous university, Padua, in Italy. Some are gritty and sad, while others are whimsical and ethereal. All, however, showcase the author's storytelling talent and fill the reader with emotion. As Janice De Jesus, the author's creative writing teacher, puts it, readers should allow themselves "to be lulled into a dreamscape by Maya's lyrical prose, akin to a beloved lullaby as her words both soothe and entertain you through her characters who are as colorful as the saris worn by the women in her stories and as textural as the artistic and spiritual canvas that is her native India and beyond."

The book's first story sets the pace for what one will encounter within this work. "Manjari and the Ballad of Peace" tells of a college history teacher living near Kolkata, India, who is described as having "a mysterious air about her—not quite reserved, but guarded somehow." During a thunderstorm, Manjari is taken back to the time of her youth when she lived in a small, peaceful village with her parents. In 1946, their quiet life is shattered when her father tells her, "You must know that there's religious unrest between Hindus and Muslims and it's escalating." Years of peaceful coexistence have given way to anger. "The people are so angry at each other that they are destroying and looting things from the people who are not of the same religious belief as they are." What follows is the harrowing tale of a family caught in the crossfire of civil and religious unrest. It is a shocking and sad story of Manjari's kidnapping, her forced life as a servant, her dramatic rescue, and her eventual arrival at Mahatma Gandhi's Peace Camp. Other stories tell of India's political and cultural history, offering an intriguing look at the country just before its independence from the British.

This is an intriguing compilation of stories that are sometimes delightful and, at other times, disturbing. Each story is unique, with genres such as magical realism finding their way into several tales. One is struck by the intensity of the struggle during the religious unrest in India in the mid-Twentieth Century, as well as the child-like wonder of characters such as the protagonist of "A Tale Before Halloween," who explains to her neighbor about the celebration of Bhut Chaturdashi, an Indian holiday that is similar to Halloween. The vast array of genres within this collection makes for a riveting read that will not only entertain but also educate. The author is a gifted storyteller who draws upon her family's history and her own love of words to create a fascinating and varied selection. The stories within this work take the reader on an emotional rollercoaster not soon forgotten.

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