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The Woman Who Thought She Was a Planet and Other Stories
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 30 August 2010
The stories of this collection range widely in genre, from "Conservation Laws", a story-within-a-story about a mission on Mars that took a strange turn, to the not-quite-everyday "Hunger" and "The Wife", to the wonderful "Three Tales from Sky River", a collection of far-future folklore of settlements on other worlds, and "Infinities", a story of advanced mathematics and real-world religious tensions.

"Delhi", one of my favourites is about a man who glimpses the past and future of Delhi, who sees a woman he's been given a picture of from a strange organisation that stops suicides by offering them an unusual reason to live in these pictures of individuals they must try to meet. He tries to find out whether he can interfere in the events and lives he glimpses - especially the mysterious woman's. Not all of it is resolved by the end. If only Singh would write a novel that starts with "Delhi" and keeps going!

The language is often beautiful, sometimes strange. I wish I had my copy with me so I could quote extensively; the only line I copied was: The apartment, with its plump sofas like sleeping walruses... (The second sentence of "Hunger".) Singh evokes her settings, usually India, such that they feel real, with all the attendant complexity, beauty and harshness, and so on. Her characters and their interactions are equally so.

Singh clearly loves India, loves writing about it and its people, while engaging critically with its expectations of women. In "The Woman Who Thought She Was A Planet", Kamala's husband, Ramnath, is concerned with the way her planetary state makes her act in public, almost more than he's concerned about her mental health. Towards the end, when events have turned quite fantastical, a judge taps Ramnath on the shoulder and tells him how reprehensible this is. It's probably more surreal than what Kamala is doing. In "The Tetrahedron", Maya develops a relationship with an interesting young man, based on discussion of the tetrahedron, and realises that she really doesn't want to follow the path already laid out for her: newly acquired fiance who doesn't especially like or understand her. In the appropriately titled "Thirst", Susheela is drawn to the water, away from her married life. The mysterious woman Urmila in "The Room on the Roof" is bitter that her friend Renuka, formerly a skilled sculptress, is now content to only inspire her husband; events later take a sinister turn. And so on.

Ian McDonald may fill his books with "exotic" detail, but Vandana Singh's India is the one I want to read about. Her work is intelligent, interesting and, above all, real - even when it's about a woman-naga or a mysteriously appearing alien shape.

This is one of the best books I've read recently. Highly recommended.
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