Book Review: Another Man’s Wife
“So, you’re back at last.”
I was only seated across the room from my wife. Had been for the past hour. But she was right. I had been far, far away, lost in a magical world woven from words.
A world where I laughed and cried, suffered and celebrated, hoped and failed alongside a tribal woman named Kuheli, the protagonist of “Another Man’s Wife”, Manjul Bajaj’s title story in a lovely anthology.
Just last week, I mused about what makes for good writing… and came up with this:
The words reach out from the pages to softly envelop you in a soothing embrace, gently coax you into the tale they’re telling you. And you step along, willing, even eager. Soon you realize the silken bonds have turned into steel wires that hold you prisoner, unable, even reluctant to escape.
When, at last, you manage – or, more likely, are rudely shaken into – the real world outside it, you’re startled. You blink uncertainly, like a man locked inside a dark room might when he opens the door to the sunlight. For a few lovely, dazed moments, you’re lost in that delightful twilight zone between the story and your life.
And then, with a shake of your head to clear your thoughts, you return to the world.
That’s when you know you’ve been reading a good book.
“Another Man’s Wife” is a good book. A very good book. I stumbled across it by accident, from a recommendation on a book lovers’ group by Amogha Reddappa who called it “probably the most underrated book ever.”
A short story must grab attention in the first 2 or 3 sentences. The collection of stories in “Another Man’s Wife” is among the finest examples of this rule in action.
I mean, who can resist a first story (“Ripe Mangoes”) that begins with Samina telling her mother: “Ammi, you are a whore!”
It then evolves into brilliant storytelling, delving deep into tangled relationships spawned by circumstance and choice, and culminating in a mother’s lament… “She will not believe me if I tell her love is all anyone ever needs.”
The next story (“Crossed Borders”) is a lovely exposition of the vagaries of fate and destiny that lead a person’s life in unpredictable directions, causing impulsive actions taken in the heat of a moment to govern the future chain of events.
As Bahadur ruminates, “We are mere actors in our lives, the script is written by destiny.” You find yourself taking a deep dive along with the hero, living his fears and anxieties, hoping fervently that he gets a break, rejoicing in his final reprieve.
Each story in this amazing collection is different.
Except for one thing. They are all captivating, fascinating.
“The Birthmark” sensitively addresses a social quirk. “Marrying Nusrat” tackles a different problem of growing up, tracing the progress of Karim, a villager who becomes urbanized – and transformed. “A Deepavali Gift” is a touching short tale of an aunt’s role in her niece Sarita’s future.
“Me and Sammy Fernandez” is about love and its perversion. As our heroine Cory puts it: “However much you might love someone you simply can’t feel self-worth on their behalf. In that regard, each person is truly alone.”
“Under a Moonlit Sky” powerfully brings out the impact of the passage of time, through a narrative of four people across twelve eventful years, starting with the first blush of romance through to a more cynical, pragmatic and practical time beyond it.
“Lottery Ticket” takes a simple situation and weaves it into a delightful exploration on the pre-ordained nature of our existences. It reveals many home truths that we’d live a lifetime to learn. About doctors. About growing up. About being adults. And tackling a random universe.
I loved, too, the analogy: “A well-worn marriage was like a shop-soiled currency note. It’s only fault was that it had been in circulation for too long.”
Dotted all through these lovely stories are some wise, deep truths that still delight me. Like:
“Years don’t age a man – experiences do that.”
“One should only commit those indiscretions whose consequences one can live with, if found out.”
“Like a shawl of the finest pashmima, only wisdom’s warmth must be felt, not its weight.”
“To survive, they had to change completely, but if they changed, then what exactly would survive?”
I’ve never tried to review a short story collection before. But I’ve read many. And only few in which all the stories in the compilation are of the same high standard.
“Another Man’s Wife” is among those rare exceptions.
That’s because Manjul Bajaj is an excellent writer. I set out to study this work as a model for learning how to craft a good short story. I ended up also admiring it as a work of art and a piece of brilliant, gripping storytelling.
I think you’ll enjoy it, too.