Here are seven superb, subtle, surprising stories that show, through a prism of unforgettable characters, what it means to live between two worlds: India and Canada.
Anosh Irani, the masterful, bestselling author of The Parcel and The Song of Kahunsha, knows of what he writes: Twenty years ago, to the mystification of family and friends, Irani left India for Vancouver, Canada, a city and a country completely foreign to him. His plan was both grand and impractical: he would reinvent himself as a writer. Miraculously, he did just that, publishing critically acclaimed novels and plays set in his beloved hometown of Mumbai. But this uprooting did not come without a steep price--one that Irani for the first time directly explores in this book.
In these stunning stories and one "half truth" (a semi-fictional meditation on the experience of being an immigrant) we meet a swimming instructor determined to reenact John Cheever's iconic short story "The Swimmer" in the pools of Mumbai; a famous Indian chef who breaks down on a New York talk show; a gangster's wife who believes a penguin at the Mumbai zoo is the reincarnation of her lost child; an illegal immigrant in Vancouver who plays a fateful game of cricket; and a kindly sweets-shop owner whose hope for a new life in Canada leads to a terrible choice. The book starts and ends with a gorgeous, emotionally raw "translation" to the page of the author's own life between worlds, blurring the line between fiction and fact. Translated from the Gibberish confirms Anosh Irani as a unique, inventive, vitally important voice in contemporary fiction.
About the author
ANOSH IRANI has published four critically acclaimed and award-winning novels: The Cripple and His Talismans (2004), a national bestseller; The Song of Kahunsha (2006), which was an international bestseller and shortlisted for Canada Reads and the Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize; Dahanu Road (2010), which was longlisted for the Man Asian Literary Prize; and The Parcel (2016), which was a finalist for the Governor General’s Literary Award for Fiction and the Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize. His play Bombay Black (2006) won the Dora Mavor Moore Award for Outstanding New Play, and his anthology The Bombay Plays: The Matka King & Bombay Black (2006) and his play Men in White were both shortlisted for the Governor General’s Literary Award for Drama. Buffoon, his latest work of drama, was critically acclaimed and won two Dora Mavor Moore Awards, for Outstanding New Play and Outstanding Performance in a Leading Role. He lives in Vancouver.
Excerpt: Translated from the Gibberish: Seven Stories and One Half Truth (by (author) Anosh Irani)
L A N G U A G E
Immigrants speak in fragments. This is their language of choice—or rather, this is the language that has been chosen for them. Incoherence. The inability to understand, to be understood. Ask immigrants where they are from, ask the question, “So what is home for you?” and you will see the agony on their faces. Of course, as a writer, I get asked that question all the time, and it is a valid one, and I answer it without missing a beat: I have two homes, and I have neither. That is what I say in interviews. But catch me off guard, catch me at a train station in Bombay, or when I am staring into someone else’s home from a bridge, and you will see the lines appear on my face.
As my neighbour did this morning. I was emptying my trash into the garbageman’s cane basket, and she asked me, “Do you like it there?” —meaning my other home, Vancouver —and I said, “Sure, sure,” and she said, “It must be so clean,” and I said, “Yes, yes,” and just as I was about to re-enter my apartment, she asked, “So, are you happy there?” and the truth is a resounding no, but then I’m not happy here either, because there is no here, here was, it no longer is, and it’s questions like these that keep pharmaceutical companies in business. Am I happy anywhere? Was I ever happy? Is there such a thing as happy? I don’t think so, and if there is, I don’t want it. I want to combust in such a powerful way that the effects are felt deep in the oceans; I want craniates to read my work and get my meaning, and that’s about it. It won’t make me happy, but it will give my combustion the distance it deserves.
While I’m feeling all this, my neighbour tells me that she went over to Dr. Hansotia’s place and rang the doorbell but he didn’t answer. What if he’s dead? What if he’s had a stroke and is just lying there on the kitchen floor? But then, upon further investigation, she discovered that he has been opening the door for the garbageman, and has also hired a new maid to help cook, clean, and get groceries. So he has every intention to live. My neighbour seems a bit disappointed by this. Just as I’m disappointed by my constant need to make sense of a decision I made twenty years ago —to leave. I can feel my body turning dark; I can feel an eclipse occurring within me, the light being blocked.
Over the next few days, I keep one eye on Dr. Hansotia’s window as I do my regular Bombay things—I visit friends’ homes, try to partake of the natural rhythms of their daily lives: their morning jogs, afternoon naps, shopping trips (oh, how the malls have grown; they are the Great Barrier Reefs of our age), domestic arguments, laughter that I hear and remember from long ago, lovers who have aged and seem “happy,” money flowing in and out of wallets and cards, and me, reaching into my wallet to pay for dinners only to be scoffed at, but in the most affectionate way, because I am an artist, an adorable pye-dog. So many natural, daily rhythms that seem completely unnatural to me, such as sharing space with another human being; waking up next to one; having a miniature version of oneself and then holding it, scolding it, cuddling it, cleaning it. Once in a while, someone hands me their baby, hoping it will change me, hoping that some of its babyness will redeem my soul, make me less grouchy, or whatever it is they think I need. This obsession with happiness —to me it’s just a new-car smell that one day disappears without warning. I try to partake of daily life, but I find natural rhythms only when I am writing. But I cannot write all the time. So I think.
It’s 2 a.m. A peaceful time to be awake in Bombay. I still call the city Bombay when I speak, but I’ve started using Mumba when I write. Mumbai is creeping into my work. Those seven islands are speaking up, telling me it’s time to acknowledge the name change. If it’s only a name change, I tell those islands (when you’re up four days in a row, you can communicate with islands), why is it so difficult for me to say it? Is it because when I say Mumbai I don’t know where to go? Or is it because Mumbai has no use for me, doesn’t need me the way I need it? On my previous trip, a year ago, I went to Chowpatty beach at night and dipped my feet in the sea. And just as I started to feel the warmth of the water, the water tightened its grip around my ankles and I realized that water, that eternal truth-teller, was back at work. You did not leave Bombay, the water said. It spat you out. Remember this, each time you hold that new passport of yours. When I returned to Vancouver, I dipped my feet in the waters of English Bay, thinking I would spite the Arabian Sea. But the Pacific had a message for me as well. Not so much in words, but in its cold, steely silence.
In Bombay, once I’m done holding other people’s babies and shopping, once I’m done catching up with friends or watching a Hindi movie in Phoenix Mills, I do something strange —strange to others but not to me. I take late-night taxi rides alone. Even though people offer to drop me home after our nights out, I prefer cabs. There’s a bridge in the city, the JJ Bridge, which connects Byculla, the place where I live, to Colaba in South Bombay. At night, when there’s no traffic, it’s just a ten-minute ride between those areas, and I use that bridge to stare into homes, into people’s apartments, to catch a glimpse of the smallness of their movements, to see complete strangers perform mundane acts such as reaching for a newspaper, or to watch an old woman fanning herself. The bridge allows me to be so close to their windows that I can literally smell their lives. This is an essential part of my Bombay visit. As my taxi climbs up that bridge, I feel a kind of exhilaration —perhaps that’s too grand a word: a release, you might say. I become an eagle who swoops in and out of lives, of narratives, without the slightest regard for plot or character development. I collect snapshots, take photographs in the mind with eye blinks, in order to find the thing behind the thing, which I hope will enlarge my world; and when I do find that moment, I don’t know what to do with it. The second I begin to feel complete, to fill up with something, a sense of loss pervades me. Then I stop looking into apartments, I look below the bridge, at Mohammed Ali Road, at its mosques and minarets, its greenness, its lights sending out signals into the sky, and it feels like an ancient place, a place that contains the breath of centuries, warm and stale. I fill my nights with domes in the sky, and minarets, with roundness and erectness, and this says a lot about how I feel about Earth itself —that I am stuck in its roundness, when all I long for is upward movement, a minaret that will take me so high . . . And my thoughts stop as soon as I descend the bridge and pass by my old school —or, specifically, the petrol pump behind my school. When childhood memories take over, it’s time for me to leave.
“Part short fiction and, seemingly, part auto-fiction, Anosh Irani’s latest book takes readers into and around the experiences of living between countries—Canada and India—between identities, and between stories. . . . Through Irani’s patient and smooth prose . . . the intense longing and agony of these protagonists shine through the charm and inventiveness of the plots. The stories are flanked by Irani’s beautiful and visceral reflections on his own experience as an immigrant. . . . All of it cast in language that is as hopeful as it is stirring. . . . Irani is an expert and unique storyteller, no sentence being superfluous or underwhelming. . . . In its style, scope, and narrative magnetism, Translated from the Gibberish is especially inventive and unforgettable.” —Quill and Quire (starred review)
“Told through a series of lyrical meditations—interspersed with some sharply funny but dark moments . . . Irani observes how immigrants can feel both untethered and trapped at the same time.” —Toronto Star
“Masterfully narrated. . . . Irani’s scenarios have an intriguing, dramatic immediacy.” —The Vancouver Sun
PRAISE FOR ANOSH IRANI'S THE PARCEL:
“A magnificent novel with powerfully imagined characters . . . bold, bawdy, tender, funny, sorrowful, all that life is made up of.” —Anita Rau Badami, author of The Hero’s Walk
“Every third sentence or so I had to check my heart because the story kept stopping it. . . . The lived experiences feel real and the emotional cadence of the book’s rhythms hit with the power of a groundswell. I dare anyone to read The Parcel and remain unmoved. . . . [T]his book sure packs a punch.” —Yasuko Thanh, author of Mysterious Fragrance of the Yellow Mountains
“[V]isceral, gritty and vivid . . . If you are looking for a compelling story, read The Parcel.” —Shelagh Rogers, CBC Books
“While The Parcel is unflinching in its depiction of the violence and poverty that have plagued the [Mumbai red-light] district and its residents for generations, Madhu’s hopefulness and strength, and Irani’s beautiful language, maintain the book’s inner light.” —Quill & Quire
“Part of the way this excellent book heals such a sprawling, horrifying reality is with beauty and religious depth.” —The Globe and Mail
“[A]rresting . . . A searing, disturbing, and intimate portrait of Kamathipura . . . his novel exposes a heartbreaking reality.” —The Vancouver Sun