Bodies in Motion: Stories

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Like the sweet heat of a curry prickling your tongue or the bursting radiance of bougainvillea, the short stories in Mary Anne Mohanraj's gorgeous debut collection, Bodies in Motion, will delight your senses and your sensibilities. Linked by the thread of kinship, these stories trace the lives of two generations of two families living on the cusp of disparate worlds: America and Sri Lanka. Through them we see just how the emigrant-immigrant ebb and flow shapes lives and the ...

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Overview

Like the sweet heat of a curry prickling your tongue or the bursting radiance of bougainvillea, the short stories in Mary Anne Mohanraj's gorgeous debut collection, Bodies in Motion, will delight your senses and your sensibilities. Linked by the thread of kinship, these stories trace the lives of two generations of two families living on the cusp of disparate worlds: America and Sri Lanka. Through them we see just how the emigrant-immigrant ebb and flow shapes lives and the bonds of family.

Mohanraj writes effervescent prose, distilling intimate moments to reveal the tug-of-war between generations and gender as modernization comes into conflict with centuries of tradition. Sensual and honest, the stories chronicle love, ambition, and spiritual and sexual quests of mothers and daughters, fathers and sons. Bodies in Motion promises to be a collection you will come back to, again and again.

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Editorial Reviews

San Francisco Chronicle Book Review
“Mohanraj’s writing style is spare and piercing, and she exercises a sophisticated economy of language.”
Boston Globe
“A graceful, nimble book.”
Orlando Sentinel
“Beautifully written...As sensuously fulfilling as the romantic escapades and rich curries in which Mohanraj’s characters indulge.”
Los Angeles Times
“A vivid portrait of families in flux, wandering back and forth over borders both geographic and cultural.”
Time Out New York
“These stories transcend time and space.”
Publishers Weekly
Mohanraj's promising but uneven debut collection chronicles the lives of two linked Sri Lankan families over the course of 50 years. From politically ravaged Sri Lanka to quiet suburban America, characters buck against the tradition of arranged marriage, desiring more than their assigned societal roles. In "Oceans Bright and Wide," a couple in 1939 Colombo, Sri Lanka, reluctantly send their daughter to Oxford University to study physics rather than immediately marrying her off. An embittered father lamenting his Americanized children surprises his youngest daughter with an arranged engagement on her seventeenth birthday in "A Gentle Man." In "Tightness in the Chest," a young American-Sri Lankan woman settles down with a Tamil husband, but resists her role as wife and future mother, while he yearns for her affection. Mohanraj's writing is vibrant, but she occasionally retreads familiar territory of the immigrant experience (i.e., the struggle of losing one's language and the pressure to achieve in America). Also, the gems of the collection are offset by undeveloped, rushed stories- in "Seven Cups of Water," a lesbian affair occurs abruptly and without context. Still, Mohanraj evokes a moving portrait of families searching for love and a place to call home. Agent, Bob Mecoy. (July) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
In her first book, Mohanraj, born in Sri Lanka but a longtime U.S. resident, presents a series of interconnected short stories covering four generations of two families throughout five decades. The collection begins with "Ocean Bright and Wide," set in Colombo, Sri Lanka, in 1939. When Thani goes to talk with the Irish nun who is supervising his daughters' education, the nun tries to convince him to send his youngest, Shanthi, for further education, with Oxford as a goal, to show the world "what astonishing heights your people are capable of." As Thani interjects, it is as if Shanthi were "a trained monkey, a performing dog." That encounter sets the tone for the other tales of trying to maintain a cultural heritage, of running from it to mainstream European/America culture, and of moving back and forth between the two. Always, the stories are about sex and food-the dominant forces that identify a character with one culture or another. Some are brutal, while others are more touching. The book isn't a continuous tale of these families but offers glimpses of different members often greatly separated in time and space. Mohanraj offers readers great insights into her characters and has left plenty of material to be mined in further works. Recommended, especially for South Asian academic collections.-Debbie Bogenschutz, Cincinnati State Technical & Community Coll. Lib. Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Twenty stories span most of the 20th century and several Sri Lankan families, emphasizing the pangs of exile and the wrench of breaking with tradition. Mohanraj's first collection opens in 1939 with "Oceans Bright and Wide," which explores a couple's decision to let their brilliant daughter, Shanthi, take a path that will lead to her leaving the country then known as Ceylon to study at Oxford. Their eldest daughter came home to live after an arranged marriage to a man who beat her; the parents show their love for Shanthi by letting her go. She turns up 16 years later in "The Princess in the Forest," married to a University of Chicago professor she knows is betraying her. Her feelings about his affair are interwoven with the tale of Prince Rama, the woman he loves, and the bitterness that comes when his brother arrives in the forest to spoil things. In "Seven Cups of Water," too-short, too-plump Mangai tells of her brother's wedding day in 1948 and the seven nights thereafter, during which she encounters his bride in the family kitchen in an increasingly erotic connection. "Pieces of the Heart" introduces Shanthi's athletic and studious daughter, Leilani, "a nice Tamil girl" and a student at the University of Chicago, who's lured in 1966 to the roof of the library and into the beginnings of a love affair with her roommate, Sue. Later tales reveal the repercussions of the civil war in Sri Lanka. In "Mangoes with Chili," a Sinhalese woman has a child by the Tamil boy her father refused to let her marry. When the troubles begin and her parents are killed, Himali brings the baby to Ashok; he leaves his wife, and the lovers emigrate to San Francisco. Their son Roshan appears again in "Challah,"now as a young hospital intern who becomes the lover of a gay doctor, only to reveal later that he, Roshan, is a married man. Intricately interwoven stories featuring sensual language and surprising sexual twists.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060781187
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 7/5/2005
  • Pages: 288
  • Product dimensions: 5.62 (w) x 8.25 (h) x 0.97 (d)

Meet the Author

Mary Anne Mohanraj teaches fiction at Vermont College and Roosevelt University. She is the author of two collections of literary writings, Silence and the Word and Torn Shapes of Desire, a Sri Lankan cookbook, A Taste of Serendib, and was the recipient of a 2006 Illinois Arts Council Fellowship. She lives in Chicago, Illinois.

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Read an Excerpt

Bodies in Motion

Stories
By Mary Anne Mohanraj

HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.

Copyright © 2005 Mary Anne Mohanraj
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0060781181

Oceans Bright and Wide

Colombo, 1939

Thani stood just outside the convent school gates, waiting for sister catherine to come and meet him. bougainvillea spilled over the walls, lush and crimson; he was briefly tempted to break off a small sprig to present to her. It was her favorite plant, the brilliantly hued paper-thin leaves hiding their tiny white flowers. But any flowers he broke off would only wither and die; better to leave them growing on the vine, surrounded by their own kind, beautiful in their profusion. Thani watched the young girls instead, demure pairs walking in their crisp white school uniforms across the wide lawns; he heard the nuns giving strict instructions to their charges.

An accustomed pleasant thrill of anticipation energized him; after all these years of friendship, he still looked forward to his walks with Sister Catherine. Their conversations had started when his daughters were girls, fatherly duty bringing him to the convent school grounds, to that large white building, its tall pillars and broad marble floors so reminiscent of his own Cinnamon Gardens home. When the convent had put in tennis courts for the girls, and his wife, Bala, had worried about the propriety of allowing their daughters to play, it was Thani who had come to talk to the nuns, who had then come home and reassured his wife. Had he been convinced by reason? Or by the bright young face of Sister Catherine, with her sharp green eyes and her red hair forever escaping the confines of her demure garb? Her face had been so fair, like a water lily, too delicate for the touch of the sun. And her mind -- quick, rich with the accumulated knowledge of European civilization, the literature and philosophy she taught. When he talked with her, Thani felt like a young coconut tree, growing tall in the bright light of her regard, enriched and enlightened.

There she was, at the top of the white steps, hurrying down, heedless as a girl despite the constrictions of her nun's habit. His heart beat a little faster, and he entered the gates, crossing the broad expanse of grass to meet her. Thani walked slowly; his heavy middle-aged build didn't allow him to move as quickly as she did. He was slow but steady, unreasonably happy. Thani never inquired too closely into his feelings for Sister Catherine. It was enough that for twenty-five years, since the day his first daughter started school, until today, when his last daughter was finally finishing, it had brought him pleasure to come here, to spend an hour or so walking the grounds in Sister Catherine's company, listening to her talk of Chaucer and Milton, Plato and Aristotle.

"Mr. Chelliah! I am so sorry that I've kept you waiting!" She landed beside him, slightly out of breath, hands reaching up to tuck stray wisps of hair back under her wimple. There were a few strands of grey among the red now, but it was still beautiful -- so fine and delicate. After all these years, Thani still felt the urge to reach out and touch the strands.

He smiled down at her. "It is never any trouble, Sister. When I received your message that you wanted to see me, I was delighted to come. I hope nothing is wrong."

"No, no." She started to walk, and he fell into step beside her. "It's about Shanthi, but certainly nothing is wrong. Everything is perfectly right, in fact."

"Oh?"

"I wanted to know -- what are your plans for her?"

Thani felt mixed apprehension and pride. This had lately been a source of mild contention between him and his wife; Bala was determined to get the girl safely married, as Shanthi's eleven elder sisters and her one brother had been. But Thani wasn't ready to let his youngest daughter go; she was his favorite, the one he could talk to. She was bright, a good companion for his thoughts; he had wondered whether Shanthi might perhaps study for a teacher's certificate. Then she could stay with them a little longer.

"That is not yet decided; my wife and I are not entirely in agreement on this." He flushed, slightly embarrassed, wondering if the nun would think less of him. A man should be able to rule his own house -- that was what his friends at the club would say, if they heard him. But whatever men boasted to one another, it was different within a marriage.

Sister Catherine glanced shrewdly at him. "Yes, I thought that might be the case. But if my own words might carry some weight . . ."

"My wife and I have always thought very highly of you, Sister." That was true; the nun had been a frequent visitor to their home, had shared innumerable cups of tea with Bala. They had become friends in their own way, the way of women together, talking of the children. If his wife had been a different woman, Thani might have wondered whether she had carefully chosen to cultivate Sister Catherine, whether she suspected the attraction Thani felt for the pretty nun. But Bala wasn't smart or shrewd enough for such a strategy. That was part of why their marriage was happy and successful; Thani could relax around his wife.

Sister Catherine took a deep breath before saying quickly, "Shanthi must go to Pembroke for a crash course; there are a few girls studying sciences now among the boys at Pembroke. We've taught her what we can in private tutorial, but we have no science courses here. Then she must go on to university; she must continue her physics studies properly. After a year or two there, she can apply to Oxford."

Thani stopped short, shocked, turning to face Sister Catherine. "You're joking, surely, Sister. Pembroke perhaps, although Bala will be worried about her, with all those boys; her reputation might be compromised. And university ... she's clever, but no girl has ever -- "

Continues...


Excerpted from Bodies in Motion by Mary Anne Mohanraj Copyright © 2005 by Mary Anne Mohanraj. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 17, 2005

    Dark, edible gems

    Mohanraj's debut--linked stories of Sri Lankans over three generations--has much to admire: sharply drawn characters, well-wrought prose with intermingling storylines, sensual connects and disconnects. Some of the tales, like the first one--'Oceans Bright and Wide'--may slip without many ripples into our subconscious, while others, like 'Lakshmi's Diary' and 'Mangoes with Chili,' stay with us, dark and edible gems that shine within long after we've swallowed them. A word of caution: the family trees at the beginning telegraph some of the stories' events/outcomes, so it may be prudent not to linger on them. Because if you're like me, you'll want to know where the branches lead--and will have a hard time waiting to find out.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 24, 2010

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