Title: One Girl Many Lives
Authors: Ajit Yadav
Often one thing serves as an inspiration for many creative minds. Like Helen of Troy – the face that launched a thousand ships…and several books and movies, the times and life of Mahatma Gandhi or folklore like Jatak Kathas. What’s fascinating is how different artists interpret the same person or event in their own unique way. This book review is about one such work of fiction where the muse is one, the interpretations many.
The book is a collaboration between five authors who found inspiration in the same photograph of a girl running on a beach, who also features on the cover of the book. Divided into five stories, each story has been penned by one author, carried forward by another ‘till each of them had written one part of it and each author had finished one story‘, as the preface proclaims. All the stories use the metaphor of the running girl who is sometimes running from riot-stricken Lahore, or from the LTTE, or from some secret of her family or from the mistakes of her past. The stories are spread through the years 1947 to faraway 2135 and will take you from India, Sri Lanka, France, New York to a Greenland of the future!
The first story, The Lone Flight, is about a girl living in Lahore during the India-Pakistan partition of 1947. The story deftly narrates the horror of that period without letting it get hammy and without sacrificing the debate between religious morality versus humanism for the larger tragedy of the era. While I liked that balance, I couldn’t help but feel rushed towards the end, especially when the main event arrives. In my opinion, it called for more emphasis on the brutality of that single event. Before the reader knows it, we have arrived at the end of the story and one feels cheated out of a climax. Also, there was one mistake where a Muslim is cremated but I’ve seen worse gaffes in more renowned books and it has become a sort of norm to find at least one mistake in a book, so this can easily be overlooked. All in all, this is my favourite in the anthology because of the nuanced storytelling.
The second story, Black July, is about a Tamilian family stuck in a riot just before the Sri Lankan Civil War started. Like The Lone Flight, this story too navigates the murky waters of nationalistic fanaticism and humanism with ease and delivers a punch to the gut with its depiction of the trauma of the affected families. I wish though the author had used his muse better because this seemed more like the story of a family trying to make it through that dark time. Of course, there is a girl but she is more an accessory rather than the protagonist. However, towards the end the girl finds a fitting closure; so does the reader.
The third story, Love2K, is about a woman who is at once beset by relationship troubles and the Y2K bug which threatens to collapse the financial world at the start of the millennium. I like how this story uses the running girl metaphorically. There is an allusion to an actual running girl, but the reader gleans who the metaphor applies to. To some, this story may seem slow but its beauty lies in its journey on the road to self-discovery.
The fourth story is The Runaway Princess, set in the present world where a girl finds herself embroiled in a deadly family feud. Though this one is fast-paced with a sweet twist and a smattering of a bubbly romance, I felt the storyline was far-fetched. But the reader will easily overlook that because the pacing never falters. Not once. If you overlook the plot, you will find this one the most engaging story in the book.
The last story is Spaces set in Greenland, the only place where humanity resides in the year 2135. Through flashbacks, we come to know of a woman’s traumatic past and her equally dangerous immediate future and watch her navigate through it all. The story is imaginative, well-researched with a steady pace and a well-crafted plot giving it a dystopian vibe and although there are times when the story becomes implausible, it recovers quickly. The authors did well in ending the anthology with this story because its message of using your past mistakes to make a better future will resonate with the reader long after the book has been put down. Indeed that, along with acceptance and forgiveness are recurrent themes in each of the five stories.
In toto, this is a brave attempt by five authors to showcase their talent by using the same muse in five different ways. It could have been a trainwreck had the authors decided to let their imaginations go wild and not adhere to some set themes, but it manages to stay on track. The authors work in unison so that each story, though retaining a distinct flavour of the author’s pen, resonates with the same message. In spite of having different characters, being set in different points in time and places, all the stories flow from one to the other like a seamless fabric that weaves the story of the frailty, the resilience and the never-say-die-spirit of humanity, making it a fitting book for this year when humanity is battling an unseen threat, and hope is the only thing that keeps us going.
I give this book stars and recommend it to anyone who likes to read short stories that give you much food for thought.
Here is the Amazon link to the book again –
Do let me know your thoughts if you read the book. The comment section is all yours.
Copyright ©2020 Pradita Kapahi.