Anis Shivani’s latest collection, long-listed for the 2013 Frank O’ Connor Award, shares many of the virtues of his debut, “Anatolia and Other Stories.” Both portray a complex, multicultural world. However, whereas the first collection roams around a kaleidoscope of cultures, “The Fifth Lash and Other Stories” concentrates on the Muslim world, with tales set in Pakistan or revolving around Muslim immigrants in the U.S. Shivani guides his readers into an Islamic world more nuanced and more human than the one we know from the western media.
Shivani, who lives in Houston, knows how strong Muslim women can be, for example. In “The Abscess of the World”, a student of Islamic law at Princeton visits Pakistan with a fellow student and meets the latter’s 16-year-old sister, Saima, who turns out to be not only his intellectual equal or superior, but also more matures. “Would That Be an Nonstop Flight?” is about Shakira, an “old maid” of 28 who manages a travel agency and is, like Saima, strong, savvy and has an ironic viewpoint. In fact, irony is one of the delights of this collection. A particularly striking example is the mosaic story, “Censor,” which details with delicious humor the changing vicissitudes of the rules a censor has to follow in Islamabad.
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The Fifth Lash and Other Stories
C & R Press, $19.95