Posted on July 10, 2017
26. ‘Swimmer Among the Stars’ by Kanishk Tharoor
[Oops, I’m a little late getting this review up because I went to the beach and built a sand cathedral. Ah well, better late than never!]
They say don’t judge a book by it’s cover, but when it’s cover looks like this, how can you help yourself?
Swimmer Among the Stars is the debut short story collection by New York-based Indian writer Kanishk Tharoor. In this book he weaves East with West, ancient history with myth, and exotic tales with modern-day settings. Several of his stories are directly inspired by legends that grew up around hugely popular historical figures such as Alexander the Great, or fictional characters such as Odysseus. That’s a pretty heady mix of source material for one collection, and I think Tharoor handles his subjects with deftness and humour.
It took me a little while to get into these stories. I love it when a collection blows my head off right away (looking at you, The Paper Menagerie), and this one didn’t. Actually, I found the last story, ‘Icebreakers’, to be both the most beautiful and the most inspiring. It’s about an icebreaker ship that gets stuck in ice in the Antarctic, and then the ship that comes to rescue it also gets stuck, and so does the ship after that, and the ship after that…
Other stories that stuck out to me were ‘Elephant at Sea’, about an elephant travelling from India to Morocco that falls in love with sea; ‘A United Nations in Space’, about the UN representatives of every nation watching the unravelling of the planet from a hotel in space; and the story about Odysseus and an oar from the series of vignettes ‘Letters Home’.
Tharoor has a really beautiful writing style; he evokes oriental luxury and Eastern magic in vivid detail, but the narrative voice is often quite distant. That makes sense, of course, as so many of his stories deal with the idea of otherness and feeling disconnected from a society due to not really ‘belonging’ to it.
A quote on the back of this book describes it as “[a] mesmeric introduction to a storyteller who stands lucid on the cusp of reinventing storytelling.” I agree with that sentiment: I felt like these stories were almost there, like they almost blew me away, but not quite. A few of the tales tugged at my heartstrings, but the book doesn’t sustain its brilliance all the way through, at least not enough for me to rank it up there with my favourites.
“Humanity, after all, was nothing but a library.” – ‘Loss of Muzaffar’
Have you read this book or are you planning to? I’d love to know your thoughts!
Want to read this? You can buy the book here.