Flute: Viking/Michael Joseph/Abacus 1989:
Set in colonial India at the turn of the 20th century, this novel engages less with the ironies of history and more with the power of myth. It depicts an India where the world of British colonialism is a half-forgotten dream but the myth of Krishna overwhelmingly real. The book's characters, some outsiders, some native, are each in their own way obsessed, outcast, filled with the pain of rejection, but passionately determined to recreate their world. Julian comes to India to escape his scandals in London; Dane, his brother, comes with his mother to bring Julian to his senses; Nikhil wants to find his “Krishna,” a god he can adore and control; Sakhi wants to escape her life as a courtesan. In each case, a world must be destroyed and a fantasy created and experienced to allow these fugitives time enough to refashion their selves in order to start living in the world that is around them. Ultimately, this book is about myth, about man's ability—and determination—to create it, and its power to consume him.
SHE: “Flute, written by Shona Ramaya, and shortlisted for the SHE Novel Idea Prize, is a first novel of remarkable depth, and shrewdly perceptive of the way myth and metaphor run deep within us… Compelling – an enchantingly written book.”
Poet Hayden Carruth on Flute: “It is convincing. It is in effect a tour de force of the imagination, written and structured primarily in a lyrical mode; yet at the same time it is a totally real and compelling and devastating investigation of cultural diversity and conflict… The book is almost like a sequence of poems. Short lyric pieces… all the scenes… then interspersed with episodes of brilliant action.”
Times Literary Supplement: “Worth reading for the way Ramaya conveys the power of myth… in India.”
Times of India: “Creating an air of timelessness, bordering on infinity, and contrasting it with down to earth experiences is a deliberate exercise… It is refreshingly different… there is a magical quality about the narrative that sustains the reader’s interest. This coupled with a philosophical depth and probings into the minds of the characters, makes it more than just another novel about the British interacting with Indians in colonial India.”
Financial Times: “An elegant first novel… and a debut that promises more to come.”
Queen of the Night
Secker& Warburg 1993
Set in the political and cultural chaos of contemporary India, where ancient Hindu epics are broadcast as soap operas and illegal kidney donations have supplanted reincarnation, the novellas in this collection show how people use stories to make sense of their lives in an incomprehensible world. All the narratives are by or about women; the underlying theme is the character of narrative itself, its ability to inspire, enhance, distort and delude. In an India of violent transitions, in an India of paradox and parody, storytelling is both a creative force and a destructive one, a form of protest and a surrender to illusion.
Cosmopolitan: “Ramaya is a born storyteller.”
Mira Nair: “I love these stories because they do not fall into the predictable collisions of east and west. Shona Ramaya is both the insider and outsider, familiar with the games of both cultures. Her writing is at once tough, lyrical, and ironic. She has the rare talent of knowing her characters so well that when you finish the book, you feel like they have spoken to you.”
This collection is set in a globalized community of merging cultures. At the heart of each story lies an enigma. Characters obsess over and choose different paths to understand a mystery, and its unfolding leads them to explore themselves at the crossroads of legend, history, and current events. A girl romanticizes about a distant cousin, a terrorist in exile, amid the intoxicating Calcutta monsoons. An upper-class young woman convinces herself that her present cook is the avatar of a beloved family servant. An IT consultant finds himself on a strange journey in America as he enters the shadow world of “body-shopping.” The stories explore issues of gender, money, class and power, exploitation and assimilation, and fantasy and myth in different social contexts.
“These beautiful stories move with a patience that is uncommon. They are novelistic in feel, but perfectly conceived as pieces. The characters are rendered with great affection and nothing in their world is simple.” --Percival Everett
“One wishes to avoid the metaphor of ‘monsoon’ when speaking of Operation Monsoon, but, dang it, the stories do accumulate and gather and are finally torrential in their effects. Their arrival upon the reader – emotionally, intellectually, artistically – transforms and seasons the atmosphere, the climate.” --Michael Martone
Some excerpts from reviews:
“A thought-provoking collection.”—Library Journal
“Ramaya’s accomplished writing skills, which are thoughtful and philosophical, hold up a mirror to the human heart in an ever-changing world. One should not miss this unusually intense, emotional and artistically challenging story collection.”—Sanford Herald (NC)
"Ramaya's second story collection forms a memorable collage, a complex picture of history and tradition overlapped with the modernity of the present. "Gopal's Kitchen" tells of a family's beloved cook who dies and is replaced by the man who received his kidney. A professor attending a conference on terrorism confronts her part in the escape of her Marxist cousin from authorities 20 years earlier. A polio victim deemed "unmarriageable" ironically runs a successful computerized matchmaking service for wealthy Indian American clients from her Calcutta home. A transplanted computer consultant gradually losing faith in the American way chronicles his disenchantment in a series of e-mails to his younger brother in India. The stories come full circle in "Destiny," which traces the path of an anthropology grad student in Syracuse, New York, back to her small Indian village, where she researches how belief in destiny functions in the Third World, with surprising results. Ramaya's carefully crafted characters, both the young emigrants and the parents and grandparents left behind, make this an exceptionally engaging collection." Deborah Donovan, Booklist.
I‘ve been working on a quartet of interconnected novellas – Temple Dogs, which contains:
Muneer by Moonlight, Temple Dogs, Sanctuary, and Dog-Walking in a Small Town.
It’s taken a while for me to get these novellas done because I basically lived in/with them in my head until I could see each one reel out like a film, from beginning to end! And then, I sat down to transcribe them into my computer.
To give future readers some idea about this book:
Each novella stands complete and independent on its own, but is linked to the other pieces by certain characters who reappear, and whose lives connect in the different stories. The characters in these pieces confront current problems about identity, life choices, threat and loss, and in their dark, uncertain wanderings, dogs become their supports. This quartet has shades of a psychological thriller, with supernatural/Gothic undertones, spiritual quests, coming of age themes and animal rights issues, with an intriguing mystery at the heart of each novella.
In the experience of the characters, memory defines their desire for what they consider “home” in disturbing landscapes, where “even nowhere is somewhere,” a place of tentative emotional comfort. Along with the backdrop of memory, dogs play symbolic roles in each story. The dogs are the settings of these stories: whether in the Indian desert, or in a temple compound, in a small town in Massachusetts, or a new, state of the art, American-run animal shelter outside of Calcutta. And like compelling settings, they are elemental energies, like air that wraps around us, water that flows by, the muddy ground that we stand on, the spirit of fire that ignites and transforms our imagination and purpose…