Ranbir Singh Sidhu's Good Indian Girls

Ranbir Singh Sidhu's Good Indian Girls (Soft Skull Press, 2013) offers fascinating and quirky short stories with a touch of surrealism and a solid dose of insightful critique of people in the Indian diaspora.

The biographical info about Sidhu in the book notes that he was born in London and grew up in California but also that, as a trained archaeologist, he has been all over Europe, the Middle East, and the Indian subcontinent. This worldliness is evident in Sidhu's stories, where the characters often are recent Indian transplants to the United States from other locations in the diaspora (and hence not direct immigrants from India, a difference that the stories often address).

The stories demonstrate an interesting breadth of characters and narrative perspectives (young, old, male, female) as well as some quite disturbing situations as with a woman confronting a serial killer ("Good Indian Girls"), a diplomat's wife's erotic relationship with their pet python ("The Consul's Wife"), and a dead man's ruminations on collecting his scattered corpse in the ocean after an airplane bombing ("Neanderthal Tongues").

Some of the stories, like the one narrated after the narrator's death, take on a surreal quality that points at mental breakdowns with provocative implications about the world in which we live. In "The Discovery," for instance, a man begins to realize that words around him are referencing nonexistent places and things, such as notIndia. What starts as a kind of refusal to acknowledge how countries and objects are defined by people (the political nature of what exists) quickly devolves into mental insanity.

What I really liked about this collection was the startling way that Sidhu created slightly-askew worldviews in his narrators and other characters' perspectives. This skewedness allows for thinking about the usual types of Indian American characters and immigrant stories, foregrounding the ability of people who might be demographically identifiable to remain elusive in their full human complexity. The narrator in "Solzhenitsyn in Vermont," is a prime example--the story wraps the college-educated Indian American man in the sensibilities of Russian giants of literature like Solzhenitsyn and Dostoyevsky, whispers of political critique and existential crisis, even as his life unfolds in an almost stereotypical narrative of the suburban man who cheats on his wife and watches his life fall apart.
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