Many of us as jaded reader reflexively do the old custom of eye roll up when we hear about a new book which falls in the “ Diaspora fiction” category- meaning it’s all about immigrant angst, dislocation, etc. But reading Rishi Reddi’s Karma & Other Stories reminds that how unfair we are to think of all such writing and novels as stereotype – but each work should be judged on its own merits rather than quickly downgraded to a category/genre and dismissed because the category is seen as saturated.
Rishi Reddi’s Karma & Other Stories is collection of seven stories about Indians, living in US (broadly in Boston area). The cover description “a multigenerational tapestry…depicting members of an Indian American community struggling to balance the demands of tradition with the allure of Western life”, doesn’t reveal how gently observant and captivating these stories are. Each story is either told in person or has a central character who is the point of entry into the narrative, and the author proficiently draws the reader into these lives. She did this by not much through lengthy descriptions or reflections but through small conversations that are laced with concise but subtly provocative observations- about the implications of a glance or a hurtful remark. The feeling is real here for the interplay between the characters- the intense moments of anger that comes with a person’s realization that a close friend couldn’t share exactly the same attitude and values; a quiet reunion which follows shortly on the heels of an argument.
International and multigenerational characters of these unique stories long for the comfort of the past while building friable and unfamiliar new lives in America. Always finding the right balance between traditional Indian culture and the attraction of contemporary Western life becomes a high stake juggling act- a gamble which cannot be win always.
A widow flees her son’s comfortable American life and returns to her birth village; a 15-year long acquaintance with the town’s librarian tempts a middle-aged housewife to consider the unthinkable; assimilated college student condemns her best friend for consenting to an arranged marriage.
Lonely, miserable, hopeful and Proud, Reddi’s characters and stories that frame them not only animate the struggle between new way of life and traditional ones but also bear witness the common ground we all share. The book also give us a reminder that we live in a world where people travel more extensively than at any early point in human history, where an increasing number of people are moving out of their comfort zones and setting down in new places to which their grandparents or even parents, might have regarded with suspicion.
Rishi Reddi is able to transcend the confines of immigrant literature, choosing instead to examine the universal themes of love, loss, family, and duty, marks Karma and Other Stories as a resonant and gifted debut.