Elevate Difference's Reviews > What You Call Winter: Stories

What You Call Winter by Nalini Jones
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's review
Jan 10, 2009

it was amazing
Read in January, 2009

Nalini Jones’ debut collection centers on the community of Santa Clara, a suburb of Mumbai, India that was built upon echoes of its Catholic faith. What You Call Winter consists of nine interwoven tales spanning three decades in a town where boundaries between family and community have faded like the once brightly colored walls framing the small houses. A sense of familial history is almost always contrasted with fragility, change, and departures. Upon leaving Santa Clara for the United States, characters such as Colleen, whose lover is “no one she could speak of at home,” seem to lose touch completely and forever sever ties maintained by those who remain - despite fleeting contact through letters, phone calls, and periodic trips to the place once called ‘home’.

Most who remain in Santa Clara relish in waiting for their loved ones to return for a holiday or after graduate school, waiting for “wives following husbands, brothers following sisters, elderly parents persuaded to live in suburbs with grandchildren, shopping malls, washing machines.” Others, like 44-year-old Toby, seem to realize only too late in life that leaving was ever an option. It seems to Toby “that his life turned out the way it had from a failure of imagination…he had not dreamt clearly enough for even those things he desired most to materialize.” Jones captures the seemingly paradoxical nature of the small town - so limited, yet overflowing with daily distraction. An elderly Grace is as devoted to The Bold and the Beautiful as she is to her daily prayers and rosary. Essie Almeida spends every afternoon writing letters to her son away at boarding school and every evening agonizing over how to censor the pain she suffers from the letters she’s received in order to hide it from the rest of the family.

Jones’ characters are often faced with an overwhelming sense of loneliness as they struggle to belong in an ever-changing yet intricately traditional context where what is left unsaid is often the most telling. When Marian returns to India to visit her sick father, she brings her new friend Vee and leaves her family home in Cincinnati. It is the plane ride that awakens her solitude, her invisibility: “Some essential part of her was out of reach, turned away like the far side of the moon no matter how they moved around each other.”

Later in the collection the reader catches a glimpse of an adolescent Marian as she struggles to reacquaint herself with her brother upon his return from boarding school. After learning that her mother had been censoring his pleas to come home in fear of the opportunities he will lose, Marian discovers an encroaching “current of…violence running through her family.” She does not come to realize the magnitude of her brother’s suffering until years later, leaving the reader to trace the tragic genealogy of silence to Marian’s own young daughter. What You Call Winter is a captivating and polished collection that questions the notions of home and belonging in the face of solitude and lost innocence.

Review by Melissa McCarron

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