“The stories in Rahul Mehta's Quarantine amplify a surprising new voice: gentle, even tender, but powerful." —Pankaj Mishra, author of Butter Chicken in Ludhiana
Reminiscent of Jhumpa Lahiri’s Interpreter of Maladies and the work of Michael Cunningham, Rahul Mehta’s debut short story collection is an emotionally arresting exploration of the lives of Indian-American gay men and their families. Manil Suri, the New York Times bestselling author of The Death of Vishnu and The Age of Shiva calls Quarantine “an insightful and compellingly readable collection of stories in which Rahul Mehta masterfully explores the emotions, the conflicts, the complex accommodations of being gay and Indian American."
There is something I call the "undisclosed first person narrator syndrome" wherein short stories are written from the first person and the reader is left wondering who this character is supposed to be, and if the "I" in the next story is the same person, and then the whole collection tends to collapse into an unpalatable mush. Sadly, this collection suffers from UFPNS, as well as the tendency for the first person narrator to be someone whose parents were born in India and moved to the US and who grew up in West Virginia and is now gay and has a white boyfriend. The first 2 stories in this collection in particular suffer from all these ailments.
Ironically, my favourite of the lot, "Yours" also displays all these symptoms yet the first person narrator, a writer (!) is working on a memoir and dealing with how to show the thing he does not want to talk about. This raised that story to a level above the others, where all those unanswered bits were left dangling.
For example in the sadly titled "Floating", by far the most interesting character was "Rajesh" — how much more compelling this story might have been if it had been presented from the perspective of Rajesh and his dealings with those whom he perceives to be rich tourists. (Better title suggestions: "Artifacts"; "Original Study"; or "One of Us".) Even Mehta recognizes that Rajesh is the most interesting element in this narrative, in that at the end he is presented as a "funny story" to tell to friends. How about a little compassion and insight into Rajesh's predicament? And what about those "brothers" who had the shop across the street? What was that about? We as readers never find out, but more seriously, one feels that the first person narrator, who lacks curiosity and insight, does not know either. Mehta does the reader no favours by placing so many stories into the hands of incurious first person narrators.
Alright, alright, I get it, I get it! You're an overeducated, severely entitled East Coast homosexual who is so distracted by the work of dumping all his baggage on his parents/grandparents that he can't see how completely he's internalized these truly horrible classist, racist, bigoted, and sexist attitudes toward others -- and himself. But did you really need to reiterate that same point for 10 entire stories?
I enjoyed these nine short stories about Indian American gay men in West Virginia, New York City, India, and upstate New York. Occasionally they end in ways that are clearly meant to be meaningful -- protagonist chooses spaghetti instead of Indian food after visiting his family; symbolism? -- but mostly they're more subtle than that (that's the title story). While sometimes I felt like he didn't give old people enough credit -- his first generation immigrant Indian elderly characters are often set in their ways and unable to make any changes at all, hardly recognizing the world around them -- on the whole the characters were believable and well drawn. And the NYC stuff totally took me back to the East Village of days gone by...
taken one at a time, these stories are nicely constructed and even, on occasion, truly powerful. taken as a collection, this book is unfortunately repetitive. it seems that some of the same themes get repeated over and over. in most of the stories the protagonist is an indian-american gay man with a white boyfriend. while the white boyfriend is generally rather nice, the indian-american guy is dislocated, unhappy, frustrated, and in a funk. since this happens over and over, after a bit one gets the gist.
also, indian families in this book really, really don't like their elderly. some very painful stories about this. probably, in fact, the most compelling. not a happy read.
Every story in this collection is wonderful, but it's worth buying this book for "What We Mean" alone. I laughed so hard I cried. Twice. And it's sort of a sad story, to be honest. After I finished the book, I read that story two more times and still laughed out loud. Mehta writes with an honesty that anyone who's filled a void with humor can relate to.
If Madison Smartt Bell is telling the truth when he writes, on the cover of Quarantine, that the book is the “best first collection I have read in over twenty years,” one can only conclude that Bell doesn’t actually get all that much reading in, at least not of first short-story collections. What Quarantine has going for it – which, it is essential to realize, is not a literary quality at all – is a kind of demographic novelty. When’s the last time you read stories by a gay author about gay Indian-American men? Never, probably (although one doesn’t like to forget Vikram Seth’s stellar “novel in verse," The Golden Gate, published in 1986 and also its author’s first book).
Still, there’s something out-of-the-everyday in the concept, especially for the morass that gay fiction has become, and so one is beguiled enough to open the covers and dive in. And that, unfortunately, is where the magic largely begins to reveal itself as a series of not-very-clever parlor tricks. Mehta tries, without success, to duplicate David Leavitt’s masterful evocations of family arrangements and derangements in Leavitt’s earliest fiction; he attempts a sort of Carveresque minimalism in which, beneath the surface of a story in which nothing whatsoever actually happens, deep and meaningful currents roil; mostly, that doesn’t much work, either. Mehta has also been reading his Jonathan Franzen and his Jhumpa Lahiri, the latter of whom demonstrated, in her most recent book of stories, that it is possible to be a terrific writer and an enviable craftsperson and yet fail to understand when you’ve drawn too many times from the same well.
But Mehta cannot escape three significant flaws in his writing. First, this is graduate-writing-program writing in its purest form; it probably impresses writing teachers for hitting all the points of technique they’ve been teaching, but it is far from profound. Mehta demonstrates little depth and even less insight, and he doesn’t quite seem to know how to lend even a touch of humanity to characters who behave clumsily, bluntly, thoughtlessly, caddishly, selfishly.
Second, notwithstanding the ways in which Mehta appears to want to locate himself “outside” the mainstream (because his characters are gay, because they are Indian-Americans), he traps them in stuffy, middle-class worlds that, except for what the characters eat and the fact that they occasionally drop Hindi phrases into their conversations, are a fairly standard literary depiction of American bourgeoisie WASPlandia. (Mehta, of course, is ethnically Indian, but was born and raised in West Virginia; if you listen to his interview on YouTube, you can only giggle at how much he sounds like every other well-educated, post-gay, American thirty-something, complete with the standard-issue linguistic tic of making every statement sound like a question.) In other words, notwithstanding the fact that reviewers of the book seem to feel compelled, to a man, to trot out the phrase “breaks new ground,” it isn’t clear what new ground Mehta has actually broken. (There is usually a muddled assertion or two about “identity,” as if the word actually meant something.) Yes, a new demographic constituency has been depicted in fiction; if that’s fiction’s job, then Mehta has done it. Still, the marketing and niche-i-fication of the book strike me as a relic of the late-80/early-90s when it seemed to make sense to talk about the first black gay novel or the first novel about AIDS. There’s a kind of schizophrenia, moreover, in Mehta’s insistence in numerous interviews that he is writing about characters who “just happen to be gay” (where have we heard that before?) even as the book is fluffed and blurbed and reviewed as though the gayness of the characters were central to the writing.
Finally, and most damaging to the literary project, is that fact that there is a monotony to the stories and to the characters that wears exceedingly poorly. As a result, the fact that they are gay and Indian-American truly does fade into the background. Unfortunately, what rises into view instead is the realization that they are self-absorbed, shallow, and all but insensate to their experience. The epiphanies they have (and modern short fiction lives and dies on this appalling notion of the obligatory epiphany) are banal and, almost without exception, unearned. In the least successful story, “Yours,” the relentless reporting of details and of stilted conversations, all of which add up to precisely nothing, is an insurmountable irritation; and the clunky metaphor of driving (at the end of a long, adolescent tizzy spurred by jealousy, the protagonist decides his lover isn’t going to leave him after all and drives off into a snowstorm, “[pressing his] foot on the accelerator”), sends a mediocre story right over the cliff.
Mehta is going to write better books. His biggest challenge, however, is going to be finding a way out of the corner he’s painted himself into with this one.
These stories feature young gay men whose parents have migrated to America from India; in some ways westernized, they struggle to break free from their parents' cultural heritage. In the title story a young man wrestles with the familial rites of respect due his grandfather. In the semi-humourous break-up story 'What we mean' Carson is leaving our narrator by means of a "Dear John" letter, and finds his life shrinking (almost literally). And in 'Citizen', Ranjan confounds her family's expectations when it comes to taking the American citizenship test by cleverly, and amusingly, subverting their best efforts of support. These are stylish and accomplished short stories that have already garnered international praise.
I am being generous in my rating because the author is not a bad writer, but there is a huge lack of 'something' in these stories. I must say from the start that I am writing as someone living in the UK so I do not have the automatic amazed wonder that it appear many reviewers in The USA had that they were dealing with a writer who was Indian/American rather than an American/Indian. I sometimes get the feeling that Americans believe that Indians in India have somehow stolen the name of 'their 'Indians' (OK that was probably unfair) -but the ignorance of Americans about India and its culture is, or was, pretty amazing when I was there in the 1990s (oh by the way I am Irish and have no personal connection to the subcontinent - though no doubt I have ancestors who did things there that are culturally unacceptable now) - I was amazed to hear Hinduism and its various Gods referred to as paganism and with the sort of condemnation you would have to go back to the early Christian authors such as Tertullian to find its like.
But the author himself seems stuck both in his culture and views the none 'Indians' (is people living in the USA who are not from India) in a very dismissive way. His father has gone into rural USA and done very well but attracted great resentment from the locals. It doesn't seem to occur to him that someone going into rural India, an outsider, who then prospers, would receive the same sort of hostile reception. This lack of understanding and perspective really undermines these stories.
I think, to be honest, what I felt most6 unhappy about, was the lack of any real perspective on the unimagined privilege that the narrator (and I use that term with all the reservations that George K Ilsley points out in his review) comes from and the substantial privilege that his parents come from. As the child of immigrants (although a lucky and privileged one) I do not mean to belittle what it took for someone in the 1950s to leave India and travel to the USA and go to medical school or what it took on graduation to start a life in West Virginia. But the experience is an immigrants one - not specifically Indian - but to do what the parents did meant they were already coming from a position of great privilege in India -even if compared to USA standards that might seem pretty poor. It is not the tale of the many emigrants from the Subcontinent (I use that term rather then repeating constantly India, Pakistan and Bangladesh) who came with nothing in terms to the UK (and probably to the USA) and worked in manual labour jobs to make a life. The authors experience is exceptional, and his portrayal as a voice of immigrants rather insulting, to me, to the many immigrants from the subcontinent and their experience of struggle to make a new life. Just because you are gay or Indian or anything else does not automatically make your story universal or descriptive of what most, or any, of those who might fall into those broad descriptors experienced. There is a certain Racism in the idea that what one person of colour says is automatically true of all.
Having reread this review I fear I may have been to hard but I was deeply upset by the universal praise for what was not a very good book.
Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via the Goodreads First Reads program. (Awesome!)
Let me preface this review by saying that I liked this collection of short stories a lot. They were all very well written and edited, etc. I love the quality of this author’s writing. Individually, each story was interesting and engaging and compelling.
As a collection, however, it became obvious that the main characters featured in each of the stories were more than a little autobiographical. There were several hallmarks of the author’s life that were repeated throughout: the American son of Indian immigrants living in West Virginia, he lived in New York City as a young gay man, returned to India to care for/visit relatives, then moved to upstate New York to further his career. Each character in each story is ostensibly different – they have different names, and different personal details, but they all seem to have lived an identical life path to that of the author. I understand the advice is to “write what you know,” but it gets to be a little much for the reader, especially when reading the entire book in one sitting.
Which is what I did, because the writing was so great.
I REALLY wish that this story had been included in the collection, as an afterward or epilogue – the author writing clearly as himself. http://randomhouseindia.wordpress.com... I desperately hope that this author considers writing an actual memoir. After reading this book, I want to know more about HIS life story, his thoughts and feelings and experiences. The stories in this book had an air of superficiality, since they were skimming the surface of the lives of strangers – they lacked the depth and emotional insight the author can clearly portray when writing about himself.
From my perspective, as someone who is not Indian-American, gay, or a man, the most powerful and touching stories were the second and third in the collection. “Floating” describes an American couple on a trip to India, where they connect with a young artist, and only fully discover who he really is after they return home. “Citizen” is about a woman and her grandson, who is helping her study for the US citizenship exam.
My least favorite story was “Yours” – it was a little too personal and had a narrow first person perspective, without really engaging the reader or connecting with the audience.
I wish the author had gone more into depth about what it means for these men to be disconnected from their “cultural in-group” (as it says on the back of the book) – in many ways it was unclear if the issues that they struggle with are due to cultural or generational differences. It is clearly intentional that all of these threads are woven together in the book, but I wish that the author had used the individual stories better to tease these themes apart and explore them individually.
Debut short-story collection explores the lives of gay Indian-American men caught between multiple cultures.
The quarantine in Mehta’s eponymous story is not a medical situation but a kind of forced cultural dislocation imposed, as quarantines often are, for the presumed benefit of those secreted away. Typically it’s the elderly parents of Indian immigrants who must endure a painful relocation to move in with their adult children who are bound by competing feelings of duty and guilt. Trapped in a country they don’t understand, they lash out at their reluctant caretakers.
The stories are told by fully assimilated American-born grandchildren who sometimes know less about India then their grandparents know about America. That many of the stories are set in West Virginia and all of the narrators are gay makes for a unique worldview.
“Citizen,” a sweet story about a young man’s attempts to help his senile grandmother prepare for American citizenship, displays a comic touch, whereas “Quarantine” and “A Better Life,” which open and close the collection, are considerably darker. Mehta is also interested in same-sex relationships, especially when they are on the verge of failing.
These stories of couples on life support offer an abundance of bittersweet moments. Not only must these young men navigate the minefields that all people in love must meander through, but they must also deal with the strain of explaining their homosexuality to parents who grew up in cultures far less permissive than those in which they have raised their children. A mother’s pragmatic question—“So who does the cooking and cleaning?”—contains as many layers as an onion.
Mehta's collection of short stories range from descriptions of gay Indian American men's relationships to the struggles of Indian family members adjusting to a new life in the United States. The questions of race and sexuality are key components in most of the short stories and the plots are refreshing and interesting. Although many of the stories focus on the themes of family, belonging, and the separation between Indian and Indian American experiences, they all provide a slightly different take that makes them worth reading again.
By the end of this collection, I found myself wondering why the cover description asserts that the entire collection focuses on gay Indian American men without any mention of the focus on Indian and Indian American women. Although only one story, "Citizen," has a main character who is an Indian woman, most of the stories include a strong focus on family and friends who are Indian American women. Some of the stories include protagonists with difficult personalities and it often the secondary characters and women in the story on the periphery that drew me back to the collection.
I still can't quite get into short stories. They're too short. They can give you that 'Ah!" of epiphany, but they never seem able to muster the "Oh!" of a really gut-wrenching or soul-touching novel.
Despite this, I enjoyed this book. The stories are well-plotted, and the characters generally likeable. It's interesting to see a book about gay Indian-Americans where the bigger issues stem from their race, not their sexuality. The writing is pretty good, too, though at times -- especially the final story -- I kept thinking the story was first-person even though it was third-. I'm pretty sure that's significant in some way.
Winner of the Lambda Awards Best Gay Debut FictionWriter’s Award, Quarantine is as insightful and telling as any collection of short stories you’re likely to read this year. Writer Mehta weaves a compelling tapestry of real life characters in this seemingly fictional autobiography. One assumes while reading these stories that it is Mr. Mehta’s own family and life. Not that we know that for true, but the fiction here seems almost non-existent as writer Mehta weaves an easy vibrancy in and about us. His telling is only the more perceptive because his Americanism is enhanced with his Ancestral Indian Heritage, which plays a great and necessary part in these stories.
That he is a gay man as well only makes these stories all the more vital and interesting. He has surely excelled in interspersing the gay world with the straight one. Revealing often the true lining and separation of the two, especially in Indian Society, that is conservative and unbending in its own ‘self-inflicted’ cocoon.
In the first story Quarantine the narrator of the story returns home and encounters his strained relationship with his Grandfather.
Whenever I see my grandfather, I have to touch his feet twice, once when I first arrive and again as I am leaving. Each time I hold my breath and pretend I am bending over for some other reason, like to pick up something or to stretch my hamstrings. He always gives me money when I leave, just after I touch his feet. I never know what to do with it. I don’t want to accept it, but I can’t refuse.
My mother takes a sip from her coffee. “I don’t like who I am when he’s around. I don’t like how I behave. I know I am mean sometimes.” “You’re not mean.” “Do you know what it is like to have someone living in your own house who hates you?” “He doesn’t hate you,” I say. “It would be easier if your dad would take my side. When we’re alone he says yes he understands, yes Bapuji is difficult, yes he disrespects me, but he doesn’t say it to Bapuji. He doesn’t stand up to him.” “How can he?” I say. “Bapuji is his father.” “I am his wife.”
Neat story about the narrator and a boyfriend in India in a small province where some nefarious young Indian men play at being artists for the tourists.
Weeks later, back in America, after having traveled through Rajasthan, Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, after hiking to the Valley of Flowers in the Himalayas and visiting Mahatma Gandhi’s ashram, after having stopped in London three days to break up the long return journey and to visit a friend, we finally open Rajesh’s package, which we have been carrying in our backpacks. We carefully cut away the heavy shipping tape. It is empty. There are no paintings. There is nothing between the cardboard. Darnell says, “Maybe he forgot,” but I can tell he doesn’t believe it, even as he says it. A few days later, Darnell remembers about the French gallery with the website, the one Rajesh said featured some of his paintings. “Maybe we can find out something about Rajesh through the website.
The story of an older Indian relative, Ranjan who is shuttled between 4 homes of her children throughout the year after moving her to America. For Ranjan Shah, things had not been so easy. Sure, she’d once had money, but her husband’s untimely death (he was just forty-seven) had ushered in an era of shrinking apartments, a smaller one every few years, until she was finally living in just one room and a bath, and then, one day, when Ranjan was in her eighties, even that was more than she could afford.
Ranjan was at her second son’s house in Poughkeepsie when the World Trade Center was bombed. She was alone at home, watching the towers fall on the large, flat-panel television. She had lived through violent times—first, World War Two, then Partition—but something about seeing the destruction on such a large screen in the living room made it all seem so much more immediate and real, and she was frightened.
About a Boyfriend Frank.
We haven’t figured out what we are going to do in the long term. Maybe we’ll stay in the apartment. Be a real couple. Buy a bed, a couch, some plants. Invite people over for dinner. Or maybe we’ll decide we’re not ready for all that, and I’ll find a studio for myself in Brooklyn Heights with a loft-style bed so close to the ceiling I can’t sit up and read, and a bathroom so small I’ll have to squeeze in sideways. Or maybe we’ll leave this city, one at a time or together—new apartments, new lives. Who knows?
When we wake up from our nap, Frank wants to fuck. I don’t. In my head I count how long it’s been since we last had sex, and when I calculate it’s only been three days I decide I can safely push him away without his complaining. I’m right. He lies on his side, his head propped on his arm, and looks at me, his hand gentle on my back.
Last week during one of our marathon telephone conversations, my mother asked me which one of us, me or Frank, was the woman in our relationship. “Neither of us, obviously,” I said. “That’s what makes us gay.” “Very funny,” my mom said. “Someone on Oprah said that often gay couples have one person who plays the man and the other who plays the woman. So I was wondering which you were.” “Frank and I don’t believe in hetero-normative gender roles,” I told her. I knew my mom didn’t know what “hetero-normative” meant, so I figured she’d drop it. “So who does the cooking and cleaning?” she asked.
About leaving a loved Boyfriend behind in New York and living in Bombay.
I had come to Bombay three months earlier, leaving Thomas, my boyfriend of less than a year, in New York. Parting was difficult. He brought me to the airport, accompanied me through the long line at the Air India counter, kissed me good-bye before I made my way toward security. I told him I would return as soon as I could, though I wasn’t sure when that would be. Thomas promised to visit.
Her eyes were white and wide open. Her right index finger was hooked between her legs, massaging her clitoris vigorously, violently. Passersby stepped around her, barely looking at all. No one stopped except me. She watched me watch her for a moment, her eyes wild, her finger furious, her face tensed as if with pain. Soon the passersby were glaring at me, as though it were I and not she who was crazy: crazy for stopping, for not turning away; crazy for having the audacity to look straight at what was there.
An Obsession to Burn Money.
I told the doctor over the phone I needed an appointment fast—tomorrow, if possible. Are you going to hurt yourself, she asked, or someone else? No, I said. I was burning money. She said, Tomorrow at three, and I asked, Do you take check or credit card, because obviously I can’t carry around cash, ha ha, but she didn’t seem to get the joke.
It had been the only time I’d done it in public. The other times had been alone in my apartment, burning bills over the kitchen sink or a pot or pan, sometimes one after another until my wallet was empty and I felt full. Had it not been for Angel’s goading, I probably wouldn’t have started. Now, I couldn’t stop.
Another Boyfriend Carson.
Carson, who has always done odd jobs, becomes a baker’s apprentice. He goes to work very early in the morning, before I wake up, and returns home a little after noon. When I come home from my job, there are muffins on the kitchen counter (seconds from the bakery, misshapen and crumbly). Upstairs, he is lying in bed, smelling like yeast. I am an office assistant, which was my job in New York and the work I have done my entire post-college life, which isn’t so long. I am not very good at it. Part of the reason I am bad at my job is that I am fundamentally opposed to multitasking. I have been reading the Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hahn, who says that to be happy you must do one thing at a time.
Carson thinks I am crazy. I can’t disagree. I have a habit of calling him from work in the afternoon, when I know he will be home from the bakery trying to sleep. It is bad enough that I wake him, but to make matters worse, I often have nothing to say. I only want to hear his voice. And since I have nothing to say, I meow. In the silence, I listen to him breathe. I meow for a full minute, maybe two. Then I hang up.
Only a few of the stories of this Lambda Winning book.
I found myself remembering these stories during the next day and finished them in record time. Some very telling and insightful prose renders this work more than just a Gay winning work but a book that perhaps wasn’t read widely enough and deserves a much larger audience.
The statue’s artist had rendered Stein round and sage as a Buddha, her eyes cast downward. Sanj remembered a quote, which he now imagined Stein leaning over and whispering to him: “A real failure does not need an excuse. It is an end in itself.” When he’d read the quote in class, he’d instantly felt a connection, and had scribbled it on the cover of his lit notebook; it seemed appropriate, since, though he wasn’t quite failing the class, he wasn’t doing particularly well, either. Still, Sanj wasn’t quite sure what the quote meant.
An interesting short-story collection exploring queer utterances
How is someone who has had the taste of both the worlds, best and worst, going to behave? Someone who has lived through the AIDS epidemic in the west, has roots in India, and is constantly negotiating different contours of his identity.
This identity crisis, among an array of other issues—immigration, old age, parents’ ability to ‘accept’ but inability to ‘understand’ same-sex relationships, and faithfulness—is explored brilliantly well in Rahul Mehta’s Quarantine. In this short story collection, Mehta writes about how same-sex desires are manifested in India and abroad, often both intersecting and contesting with each other.
“Floating” is about the author and his partner being conned by a tourist guide, Rajesh. “Ten Thousand Years” portrays gay lovers suddenly confronting an offsetting long-distance relationship. And when Thomas, the narrator’s partner, comes to India where the narrator is taking care (hardly) of his ailing grandmother, things go both in favour and against them. In togetherness, they fall apart. In “The Better Person”, the narrator finds how to improve himself in a same-sex relationship through his brother’s marriage. As an assorted collection of complex and nonnormative desires, on display or in hiding, Quarantine pushes the envelope in the writing of homosexuality in fiction.
Reading Challenge 2018 - Book Riot: book set in or about one of the five BRICS countries. A series of stories about Indian-American men, their lives and families, and each dealing with being gay. There were many cultural aspects about India I learned, as well as words from the language I had to look up. The stories were either intense and interesting, or predictable. They have been quarantined metaphorically from India, their families, and even lovers. I found it fascinating that even though they are American, they are still strongly connected to the country of their parents or grandparents through customs and traditions.
I haven't been a voracious reader or I would I hardly read all this while but this particular book I happened to finish in a weeks time. What a well written book I must say, the thoughts are mind captive in this book (only in a good way), What I liked the most the way it's narrated, simple with absolute ease in every character that has been pen down. Like I said I the entire book is great but my favorite remains the Jaipur Story.
Thank you Mr. Mehta for writing this. Now thanks to him I will take up reading seriously.
Well, what better time to read this book than now?
Moving on. These stories left me hungry. They left me with a restlessness that comes straight from my angst about my culture. Although the book did get a little too ABCD (American Born Confused Desi) at times for me, which is strictly a personal preference- I am a Desi Born Confused Desi. Do not let this stop you from picking up this book and marvelling at how it seems as if writing comes all too easy to Rahul Mehta.
This was the first time I read a book where I felt like I could truly identify with the characters. Queer brown men trying to find their way through life...a similar want weaved through all of the stories. Rahul's writing style is seductive in its crisp pose and his detail to character development had me hooked. I can't wait to read his novel. This is a must for any LGBTQ anthology list.
This authors debut collection of short stories. Well written, but didn't leave much of an impression on me. I don't think it's because I read a lot of short stories. Just not very memorable. The author has written some recent work that I will be reading.
Solid collection with its highs and its lows. I didn't feel like the main characters in each of the stories were that different so some behavior and language felt predictable by the end. My favorite story was "What We Mean" which had such a eclectic balance of humor and sadness.
i found the book moderately interesting... I've been a tourist in Rajasthan, and it was interesting to visit with Rahul... a passionate and talented writer, and I'm interested to see where he will go next.
I enjoyed these stories by Rahul Mehta - however, I took a note from other reviewers stating they all felt very similar read together. I decided to break up my reading of these stories to avoid that and it was a good choice. If they had been read together I think they would've felt repetitive. That being said, they were good, not amazing but well written and though provoking. I enjoyed that many of the stories occurred at a turning point in the narrator's life - but I was then left with wondering what happened to them after the story ended.
What links together Rahul Mehta's nine stories in Quarantine is the longing for connection. Each story's protagonist feels at least one degree removed from their own life, either through their romantic relationships or their familial situation. Writing from the point of view of Indian-American gay men, "otherness" arrives without effort as Mehta tackles themes of loyalty, tradition, and yearning. The stories are both immersive and contemplative, and exactly the sort of lonely romanticism that my literary brain loves.
However, that's not to say that Quarantine is an entirely unhappy book. Small moments of joy punctuate many of the stories, during the moments when the characters feel at ease and snugly nestled into a comfortable life-groove.
Overall, the collection makes me curious about what Mehta would do with a full-on novel. The intimate way in which he writes would do well in long form, I think, despite his short story style being more about snapshots into characters' lives. He could do a lot with the ideas of searching for home, complicated love, and travel. I know I'm speculating, but I sense that Mehta has a grand and sprawling tale gestating somewhere in his head. Maybe he's already begun; I do not know. Whenever it arrives, I will read it.
"Decidedly more assured and accomplished is another debut collection of short stories published by Random House last year. Rahul Mehta’s Quarantine flits between the US and India. In almost all the nine stories, the central character is a second-generation Indian-American gay man.
While some of this might seem familiar territory, what elevates this collection of stories is the author’s empathy for his characters. We do get characters who are out of place, lost between the new and the old, and sometimes with little control over their own lives, but they deal with it in a very believable, everyday manner.
And yet, the stories never get banal.
The gay men here are not fighting for acceptance. They are mostly comfortable in that identity. But all relationships change. Out of the everyday life of his characters, Mehta threads out little details in the shape of memories and habits to give us a hint of the change that is about to come. He has a sharp ear for dialogue. So whether the characters are breaking down, throwing a tantrum or on the verge of a break-up, the dialogue is always believably apt. The stories ‘The Better Person’, ‘Yours’ and ‘Citizen’ stand out especially."
This is a great introduction to a wonderful writer. These are the stories of the children of immigrants who are balancing the western customs they grew up with and the Indian customs of their parents. We see the appeal of both cultures. It's certainly not a new topic in literature but Metha has his own insights to add.
When I started the book I planned to give it 5 stars but couldn't by the end. Although the protagonist of every story is a 20-something gay male of Indian descent, I don't think the stories are autobiographical. I wish some of them were. Frankly I grew tired of these boys who were self-involved,disaffected, selfish and at loose ends. There was a sameness I grew bored with. Metha is capable of creating unique, captivating characters because many of the minor characters were like this; I would have promoted some of them to bigger roles.
I would love him to show me some ambitious, intelligent gay Indian-Americans who are kind, just to break up the monotony and grapple with different problems. Still, I know I will purchase his next book and I look forward to following his career.