Wednesday, 23 September 2020

Short Story Review: Anabasis by Amal El-Mohtar


Anabasis by Amal El-Mohtar
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I read this as part of the collection Nevertheless, She Persisted: Flash Fiction Project .
This story can be found online

First, I thought I had better check what "anabasis" meant - "Anabasis (from Greek ana = "upward", bainein = "to step or march") is an expedition from a coastline up into the interior of a country" according to Wikipedia.

Upon starting to read this I was completely entranced by an early section which I found rivetingly poetic -

"My real mouth is full of sharp teeth and a sharper tongue, three languages coiled like snakes in my throat, scaly and silent. My real mouth is an armoury of words forged in the furnace of my chest, hot as a spitted sun. My real mouth is a storm, and my voice is thunder.
To pass among you I wear a different mouth: full lips unparted, always smiling. I paint it pretty colours. It speaks only when spoken to, softly. To pass among you, it tells you stories: I am sweetness. I am sunshine. I am here to hold your hand through the horror of my name. My mouth is a coin, and I spend it. "

According to the publishers , the story was inspired by a 2017 news story about the trecherous border crossing in the snow into Manitoba for refugees seeking Canada which reports that "A two-year-old member of a large group of refugees who walked into Manitoba from Minnesota ..told his mom he wanted to die instead of finish the walk". Heartbreaking.

El-Moktar's writing is stunning, she uses the Sumarian poem, Inanna's Descent into the Underworld to contrast with the mother's walk across the snow "Borders are shape-shifters,too: they change what goes through them. Time was, the only border worth crossing was into the underworld, to fetch back a lover's life" That writer is Canadian is extremely relevant to this piece - her passport, her struggle to remain Canadian in light of the border guard eyeing her as Arab, as Muslim. Her empathy with the predicament of those crossing
"If I could take each of my words and lay them in the snow at her feet. If I could.. eat this distance between us. If I could devour this border, if I could tell it to smile while I broke its teeth, if I could unsheathe the sword of my mouth and strike it down, if I could thread the needle of my mouth and stitch good shoes for her baby, if I could cut a path into this country with the sharpness of my tongue..." 
Unbelievably poignant.

I am very impressed by this piece, my mouth, my words fails to convey how much. 5 stars are not enough.

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Sunday, 20 September 2020

Short Story Review: Pockets by Amal El-Mohtar

Pockets by Amal El-Mohtar
I've been meaning to read this author for some time when CR book club buddy gave me the heads up re this short story of hers from back in 2015.

It starts of pretty much like a mystery about surprising strange things being found in a woman's pocket. She calls on her girl friends for help to solve this mystery. By the end ****SPOILER ALERT**** the story has transformed into a piece about the art of writing and its readers, the author might never meet or get to know her readers but keeps producing her work anyway. The final letter Nadia finds in her pocket is a love letter from any writer to any reader. Neat.

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Saturday, 19 September 2020

Short Story Review: As the Last I May Know by S L Huang

As the Last I May Know As the Last I May Know by S.L. Huang
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This Hugo 2020 Award Winning Short Story originally published by is "an alternative history short story looking at decisions and consequences and what it takes to pull the trigger".

11 year old Nyma is a budding poet but she is also the chosen one. Inside her surgeons have planted a capsule containing codes to the most destructive bombs. If the newly elected president wishes to bomb the other warring party he has to first got these codes. This is the dilemma that The Order has put in motion to test the country's leaders in time of war since the massive destruction of 200 years before. Nyma has a choice but that is weighed aganst duty. The President also has a choice. Is he wiling to reisk the total destruction of his capital, the annihilation of everyone? Nyma is a fan of the ancient poet who had written "echoes have no tombs", she herself writes "I am here to make you doubt". The power plays between the Order and the Presidency play out in this story as war rages ever closer, as decisions surge toward its players.

I found the use of poetry in this short story quite evocative. It call to Nyma, it called to her tutor Tej, to called to the President and it called to the people. But will it be enough?

The author S L Huang has website, it informs me she is a MIT graduate, and Hollywood stuntwoman, who writes "eccentric mathematical superhero fiction"

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