The Five-dollar Smile and Other Stories
With his highly acclaimed novels The Great Indian Novel and Show Business, Shashi Tharoor has leapt to the forefront of a generation of writers in English from India whose stars include Salman Rushdie, Bharati Mukherjee, and, more recently, Vikram Seth.
The Five-Dollar Smile will buttress Shashi Tharoor's growing reputation here and give readers a chance to savor his earlier work. For the most part written when the author was in his late teens and early twenties, the stories in this collection already reveal a keen sense of language and narrative development, and, like the later novels, are infused with wit, sensitivity, and compassion. Entertainments foremost, they are in turn touching and funny, and although many deal with the traumas of youth, the author confronts broader issues as well: death, deceit, hypocrisy, family, the conflicts of cultural change, and honor.
In the title story - written in a lonely hotel room in Geneva soon after the author began his work with the United Nations - a young Indian orphan is on his way to visit America for the first time, and his anguish and longings in the airplane seem hardly different from those of any American child. Tharoor's admiration for P. G. Wodehouse makes "How Bobby Chatterjee Turned to Drink" a delightful act of homage, while "The Temple Thief," "The Simple Man," and "The Political Murder" bring to mind O'Henry and Maupassant. His three college stories, "Friends," "The Pyre," and "The Professor's Daughter," are full of youthful high jinks, naive infatuations, and ingenious wordplay, and "The Solitude of the Short-Story Writer" explores a writer's conflicted relationship with his psychiatrist and his work in the manner of Woody Allen. In the duet "The Village Girl" and "City Girl" the author provides an experiment in perspective: the twin stories begin exactly the same except for the gender of the protagonist and then evolve in a radically different way. Together, the fifteen stories gathered here show a major writer in the making.
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The FiveDollar Smile
How Bobby Chatterjee Turned to Drink
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