Review: Swimmer Among the Stars by Kanishk Tharoor

39668922Verdict: Beautifully written, slightly forgettable.

My rating: 3 put of 5 stars

Genre: Short Stories, Fiction.

Published by Picador, 2017

Find it on Goodreads.

An interview with the last speaker of a language. A chronicle of the final seven days of a town that is about to be razed to the ground by an invading army. The lonely voyage of an elephant from Kerala to a princess’s palace in Morocco. A fabled cook who flavours his food with precious stones. A coterie of international diplomats trapped in near-Earth orbit. These, and the other stories can be found in this collection.

Some of these stories are breathtakingly beautiful – and others are ever so slightly forgettable. I have problems reviewing short story collections at the best of times, but especially with this one. One a sentence by sentence level, this is stunning. The first story (“Swimmer Among the Stars”) starts like this:

“As a rule, the last speaker of a language not longer uses it. Ethnographers show up at the door with digital recorders, ready to archive every declension, each instance of the genitive, the idiosyncratic function of verbal suffixes. But this display hardly counts as normal speech. It simply confirms to the last speaker, that the old world of her mind is cut adrift from humans and can only be pulped into a computer.” – like seriously, stunning, stunning, stunning.

But even though I adore the way Kanishk Tharoor constructs his sentences, with their flow and ebb and wonderful eloquent excursion, the stories themselves did not always work for me. When the plot and the language converged, as they did in my favourite of these stories (“Tale of the Teahouse”) the result is breathtaking in that way that makes me clutch a book to my heart. But when they don’t, all the beautiful language in the world can not connect me to the story, this was especially the case in “The Mirrors of Iskandar” – a story told in short vignettes that felt laboured to me.

But still, even though not everything worked for me here, the mastery of language and tone is enough for me to pick up whatever the author writes next. And, can we have a moment of appreciation for this beautiful cover?