Burn the Library and Other Fictions

Book Review: Lopa Banerjee

Author: Sunil Sharma
Publisher: Authorspress, India
Year of Publication: 2021
ISBN-13: 9789391314545

As an ardent reader and connoisseur of literary fiction, especially the often marginalized, yet cherished genre of short fiction, what has intrigued and allured me since years of my exploration in this genre is how human stories narrated by an author carries glimpses and dimensions of the human psyche, and how, within the short span of an individual story, these dimensions take shape in various manifestations. As readers and writers, we grow every day with our poems, stories, our art, and become a small part of the collective consciousness of the universe. Although different from poetry in its literary expressions, short stories happen to be yet another manifestation of our collective consciousness, whether emotional or cerebral, in the way stories are built, conceived and executed to portray our tangible world and its realities in an intangible, elusive creative representation.

Sunil Sharma
It is with this same consciousness about the craft and purpose of short fiction that I started reading the stories penned by esteemed author, poet, academic, scholar Dr. Sunil Sharma in his collection titled ‘Burn the Library and Other Fictions’. Dr. Sunil Sharma happens to be a senior academic, critic, literary editor and author with 22 published books: Seven collections of poetry; three of short fiction; one novel; a critical study of the novel, and, nine joint anthologies on prose, poetry and criticism, and, one joint poetry collection. Dr. Sharma also edits the English section of the monthly bilingual journal Setu published from Pittsburgh, USA. With such a prolific academic and literary profile of the author, it was quite imperative that the stories would have a delectable literary flavor. After I finished reading the stories in the collection, ‘Burn the Library and Other Fictions’, I discovered that the author takes the readers along with him in a journey of all the significant vicissitudes of the postmodern lives that we are part of, drawing intimate, engaging portraits of urban existence that sometimes gives us a feeling of Deja vu, at other times a feeling of numbness due to our overt familiarity with the protagonists and their predicaments. These are the protagonists and their physical worlds that we all are part of in our everyday realities, yet the fresh vistas of perception that the author upholds which makes the difference.

Lopamudra Bannerjee
Some stories in the collection including the first one, ‘A Fairy Tale Called Hans Christen Andersen’ are replete with the gripping and stoic style of magic realism and fantasy, along with the prominent element of intertextuality, taking inspiration from a literary classic and its creator, then transforming it by giving it a postmodern spin with realistic characterization, traversing landscapes in a literary, artistic style of storytelling. There is also a riveting diaspora tale titled ‘In Love with a Smile’ about two individuals rooted in the same motherland, but migrating to the foreign soil in search of their destinies that intertwine, a story in which their bond develops as a slow-cooked broth, offering emotional and inquisitive exploration. In yet another story, ‘Love: Beyond Words’, a husband’s poignant narrative about his initial days of conjugal relationship with his wife, their interpersonal association and their gradual descent into betrayal, bitterness and caustic despair has been woven with a finesse of emotional expression and richness of visual imagery. In the story titled ‘The Last Indian Duchess: A Dramatic Monologue’, inspired by ‘The Last Duchess’, a poem by Robert Browning, the author weaves a magical postmodern narrative of the lives of the rich, aristocratic, ostentatious and the seed of betrayal, treachery and adultery which is embedded in the core of it. The title story ‘Burn the Library’ is an apt manifesto for our postmodern times when the excessive consumption of technology has unapologetically led us to a vicious, diabolical world where humanity and everything humanitarian dies a sure and drastic death, and the dangers as a consequence of the utter loss of humanity are deftly portrayed through subtle use of irony, sarcasm and a critical, perceptive lens of human understanding.

Finally, in the story titled ‘The Meeting with Hemingway’, the author weaves a very engaging contemporary tale about a modern world storyteller with such abiding lines as these: “You see my boy, a writer is an ordinary person who can create beauty out of ugliness. Pain, hurt, humiliation. That gets transformed.” With the portrayal of the two protagonists in this story, Hemingway and Mboto, he has created a spellbinding saga of humanity.

In all the twenty stories of the collection, including the micro stories and the long short stories, the richness of the narratives and the honest ingenuity of the storyteller keeps the reader hooked until the very end. Being a scholar of repute, the author has delineated the realistic urban Indian world, the diaspora world, and above all, utterly relatable characters, and his strong imagination and sensitivity in these portrayals is quite palpable in most of the stories.

Reviewer bio: Lopamudra Banerjee is a poet, author, editor, translator and writing mentor living in Texas, USA with her family, but originally from Kolkata, India.

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