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A Night with a Black Spider Paperback – 10 Jul 2017
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About the Author
Ambai is the pseudonym of Dr C.S. Lakshmi, one of the foremost writers of Tamil fiction. Her stories have been translated in three volumes entitled A Purple Sea ; In a Forest, a Deer and Fish in a Dwindling Lake . The second book shared the Hutch-Crossword award for translated fiction in 2007. Ambai has also won the Pudumaipiththan Memorial Lifetime Achievement Award for her contribution to literature from the US Tamil cultural organization Vilakku in 2005 and the Lifetime Literary Achievement Award of Tamil Literary Garden, University of Toronto, Canada, for 2008. In 2011, Ambai was awarded the Kalaignyar Mu. Karunanidhi Porkizi award for fiction by the Booksellers and Publishers’ Association of South India. The University of Madras awarded her for excellence in literature in the centenary celebrations of International Women’s Day in March 2011.
She has been an independent researcher in Women’s Studies for the last thirty-five years. She is currently the Director of SPARROW (Sound and Picture Archives for Research on Women).
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There are seventeen stories, most of them with themes of music, traditional family roles, travel (in a train) and a few others that felt out of place among them, but offered the needed relief. If it had been upto me I would have just included the train travel ones and titles the book appropriately since so many are about journeys but it isn’t upto me. Even amongst the train journey ones there are a few, here and there, that felt starkly out of place, making this a less than 5 star read.
A Love Story With A Sad Ending – This was weird as hell. Not a very good opening story but what can you do. It is about an Asura who falls in love with a goddess and expects her to immediately comply since Mr.Asura has rejected everyone and therefore his first love must be immediately compliant. That isn’t the message the author wants to convey but it is the one I got. I didn’t like this much so I’ll rate it 1/5 stars.
Ravana’s Fortress – About an orator from TN who is invited to Paris to speak about how TN is now. People expect one thing from her and get another. This was a bit boring in all honesty. I can understand how the audience in the story felt. 2/5 stars
Journey 11 – A story about the ticking of the clock of life. And about family. That will turn out to be the main theme in the collection here. And this showcases Ambai’s subtle way of telling us something. I enjoyed it, though it made me a bit paranoid. 4/5 stars
Journey 12 – Music, an elderly lady and lots and lots of emotions. I don’t want to say exactly since it will spoil the story for you. But I will say that this one will break your heart and make you cry. Keep tissues by your side. 5/5 stars.
Journey 13 – Another journey, this time in a bus. This one is hard to explain. It isn’t really about anything specific, more like a chance encounter one might have. It was beautifully done though and I absolutely enjoyed it. I did cry a bit at the end, yes. 4/5 stars
Dawn – I don’t remember this except that it was about about a character coming to terms with someone’s death. I can’t rate it since I don’t remember it.
Journey 14 – This is the story that made me stop reading it for so many days. Her hatred for my community could not be more obvious and she shows that off brilliantly. This is why I cannot rate this book, I cannot in good conscience rate a book that hates me and my people with such vehemence. So, 0/5 stars.
A Night With A Black Spider – Hmmm. I’m conflicted about this story. Normally I reach for the title story first and see if I enjoy it but I didn’t do that with this because I got into the first stories I read and continued reading them in order. But this tory just felt weird to me. So maybe I didn’t get it? 3/5 stars
Thiruvalluvar Under The Tree – I didn’t get this story. I’m sure that there is some sort of moral and social science type textbook theme here but I didn’t get it. And I didn’t enjoy it so 2/5 Stars.
Saluki – Men who cannot talk to women are the theme of this story. Irrespective of how feminist men call themselves they always end up being unable to converse with women, especially ones who aren’t from their state. There’s also a dog. Nuff said. 4/5 Stars
Journey 15 – A woman who can cook like goddess Annapurneshwari descended upon the earth is the main character in the story. And her daughter’s wedding with a slight hitch that gets….unhitched. I LOVED this story and yes, while it was cliché it was also heart warming so I will not rate this any less than I want to which is a glowing 5/5 star.
Journey 16 – This is about a girl who meets a local politician on a train. Again, she brings up her hatred of a certain community of people and tries to make it subtle but it is glaringly obvious. I can rate this though because I didn’t enjoy the story even till I realised what she was doing, 2/5
Burdensome Days – I don’t even remember what this was about. I do remember that she refused to sing a song that was a bit sexualised and felt hurt that someone said something about her mother. I guess that shows I didn’t enjoy it much? No rating.
When Things Die – A mother, a piano and Ambai’s favourite family sentiment. Mixed with music. I loved this story, and the characters in it. People value certain things that are given to them a lot more than we think and this highights how we associate things with people and when the things get destroyed we feel destroyed. 5/5 stars.
Journey 17 – Another story about a train journey where two women meet for a few hours. I thought that it was maybe not as well done as the author hoped? The story lacked the stublety that she is known for and while it was good, it wasn’t great. 3/5 stars
A Moon To Devour – This one broke my heart. Oh how it broke my heart. This one follows a love story of sorts of a woman “as dark as a plum” and a man who stands up for her once. I loved how it was written, (in Tamil they say பட்டும் படாமலும்) in a way that was detached enough to tell the story in a cold manner that somehow left you more shocked. 5/5 stars
Journey 20 – This is a story about a tailor and a salwar kameez set that he stitches. Again, this has communal and social themes and while the author’s aim is obviously to try and create unity amongst her readers this story felt more like instigation to me. Others probably don’t feel that way but it felt unnecessary to me to specify certain things and it completely took away from the painful beauty of the story and her writing. 2/5 Stars
The author’s hypocritical nature comes through in some of the stories where she targets a particular caste or group and it felt a little distasteful. It is the only thing that will stop me from reading any of her other books and I don’t think it is worth the stress I have to put myself through when I read one of these stories filled with hatred and disdain. I wish she had employed her signature subtlety and told them instead of making her prejudice blatantly obvious.
As you can tell from my ratings, the stories are either absolutely amazing or rather low rated. I cannot understand it much but that is the danger of reading short story collections I suppose. You find some you love and some you don’t enjoy as much. If I were to rate this book without those social and moral lesson stories I would give it 4 stars and put it in my favourites list. If I were to include those stories I’d not recommend this because it felt too much like a moral science class and I have had enough of those for one lifetime.