Shielding Her Modesty and Other Stories, by Sita Bhaskar. Frog Books, February 2006. $10 paper
A native of India and longtime resident in the US, Sita Bhaskar focuses on the vexed interface between two cultures. Her stories are readable as transparent, light-handed plots exquisitely composed either to provide grounds for pity, laughter, condescension, or bewilderment—most often in medleys; or to explore a master idea (such as alienation); or to dissect the “when in Rome” commonplace. Their most compelling profile, however, is materialistic. Bhaskar’s narrators speak for no one–self, the Indian community or the American, higher authority, or a disciplinary consensus, though she is versed in anthropology as well as the poetics of comedy. What is “really real” to Bhaskar is a latent dynamic of temperament, culture, class, and gender; everything else is outward manifestation, invariably engaging but always pointing beyond and below. The method of Shielding Her Modesty is classically logistical: conflicts and classifications as well as syntheses (fated to fail) are governed by rigorous laws of antecedent and consequent, causal or associative. Finally, the texts are elemental: similar (but far from identical) characters act and react in analogous ways to cognate situations; the resulting array of tightly integrated patterns creates a dystopia of in-betweenness. Fans of Bend it like Beckham and The Monsoon Wedding will revel in Bhaskar’s wit, finesse, and empathy.