Authors: Parin Rattansi and Shobna Rattansi
Publ: Shilka Publishing
This heartwarming and witty collection of short stories depicts the experiences and challenges of life in the UK, East Africa, and India. The reader will gain insight into the lives of the main characters, who range from a psychotherapist helping a woman to heal using the Emotional Freedom Technique, another woman in the grip of an alcoholic and manipulative spouse, the new head of the humanities department in an educational institution, and a young woman who gains wisdom from a wooden African sculpture, Dhirango, which comes to life. Then there is Big Ben who explores Europe to seek friends and to gauge the possible impact of Brexit on his popularity.
This is the first time I’ve ever read a book with two authors credited in this way. As I read the stories, I found myself curious about who wrote which story – did they write them separately over time and collate them at the end, or did they write each story together finding their way into the characters as they went along? I wondered what the genesis of this collection was – did they plan it like one would a menu, deciding on the themes they wanted to cover, or were the stories inspired by people they had met along their lifetimes? One thing is for sure, this collection felt like a love project. You can sense where the authors were having fun in the writing process, and the tenderness they feel for their characters sparkles through the writing.
Mostly, the stories offered brief snapshots into people’s lives, often people who feel strikingly familiar – and this was my favourite thing about the book. However, there were occasions where it felt like the authors decided they wanted to write about a specific topic, and the authorial agenda was so strong, it interfered with the character. For example, in the story entitled One Day At A Time, it felt like the authors had strong opinions on what it is like to be married to someone who suffers from alcoholism, which meant that the characters where not given the opportunity to be as complex, or nuanced as they deserved. In these cases, it was difficult to ignore the almost moralising that was happening, which took away from the strength of the storytelling. This was in direct contrast to my favourite story Our Jenny, where the character was much more developed, and had the agency to take the reader on a journey that was simultaneously beautiful and painful.
I did wonder about the romanticising nostalgia in some of the stories – a yearning for a sort of Africa that will be familiar to those who remember when the African section of the bookshelf was all Africana and colonial dreams. It made me bristle, but that may also just be residual trauma from being pummelled with ‘dreams of Afreeka’ from a young age.
After I finished this book, I returned to the blurb and re-read it again. And I realised the missing piece of magic for me. As a reader, I felt like the authors were so intent on offering us an insight in the lives of their main characters, that the storytelling sometimes took a backseat. And yet, there is no denying that the authors were courageous about the types of topics they explored, and clearly have great empathy for their characters, especially when it comes to experiences that are taboo or not often written about.
One Day… is an easy, comfortable read, and you can tear through the stories fairly quickly. The length feels considerate, I could nibble away at a story as I stood in line at the bank, or gulp another one down just before I fell asleep. And the stories of whimsy, like Big Ben’s European safari, or the story about Chocolate Cravings were like palate cleansers that were a delight to read.
By the time you get to the end of the collection, it feels like you’ve woken up the day after an eventful dinner party, which you know was fun, and yet the details are hazy…you met some interesting people who left an impression on you, and whilst you can’t really remember the conversations, you know that the experience was enjoyable if not memorable.
My deep hope is that the authors enjoyed the writing of these stories as much as it seemed they did. This is a labour of love, and it shows.