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Broken Jaw

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Minoli Salgado's Broken Jaw is a beautifully orchestrated collection of eighteen stories set mainly in Sri Lanka from a writer who has gained international recognition for her evocative representation of the trauma of war. This brave and passionate book not only speaks against silences - official and unofficial - but also tests the limits of what can be said, reminding us that though it may be 10 years since the civil war in the country ended, its legacy remains.

The book is divided into two parts, 'Rumours' and 'Ventriloquy and Other Acts', that take the reader on a journey from the public world of political conflict to the private space of home, from the dislocations of violence and migration to a personal quest for peace and renewal, charting the emergence of a speaking voice in the context of its suppression and denial. These intricately crafted stories are at once enchanting and harrowing, full of resilience and courage, suffering and hope.

"A brilliantly innovative mosaic of short stories of great skill and exquisite language. This is a compelling and beautiful and important book." – Robert Olen-Butler, Pulitzer prize winner.

Dr Minoli Salgado is a writer and Reader in English, as well as Co-Director of the Centre of Colonial and Postcolonial Studies at the University of Sussex, UK. She has published numerous short stories and critical essays on postcolonial literature and theory and is the author of Writing Sri Lanka: Literature, Resistance and the Politics of Place (2007), the first major critical study of Sri Lankan literature in English, and the novel, A Little Dust on the Eyes (2014), which won the inaugural SI Leeds Literary Prize and was longlisted for the DSC Prize in South Asian Literature, the region's largest literary prize. She is currently on a Leverhulme Fellowship undertaking research on memorialisation and bearing witness to exceptional violence in contemporary exilic literature. She is also writing a memoir drawing together the narratives of Sri Lankan war survivors she met on a recent island-wide trip in the country.

148 pages, Paperback

First published June 6, 2019

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Minoli Salgado

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Displaying 1 - 14 of 14 reviews
Profile Image for Hugh.
1,254 reviews49 followers
February 26, 2020
Shortlisted for the Republic of Consciousness Prize 2020

This is probably the least known book on the recently announced longlist for this year's Republic of Consciousness prize - before the announcement it was not even visible on GoodReads. This is the second review here - Paul wrote an excellent and comprehensive one yesterday, so mine will be shorter.

Salgado had a well travelled childhood in Sri Lanka, Malaysia and later England, and it is the civil war in Sri Lanka that is the dominant theme of the first eight of these short stories, which were all written before or during 2011. Some are very short, and the subject matter is harrowing at times, but the writing is incisive and often poetic, and her snapshots of the war focus on what was lost from the official record.

The remaining stories are less thematically unified and cover a wide range of subjects including the tsunami and her experiences as a writer - in the funniest she describes the publishing industry obsession with sassy writers and the effect of being asked to be one.

The final three stories are fragments of childhood memoir, the first in Colombo with her grandfather, the second describing her move to Malaysia as a young child, and the third in a spartan English boarding school.

An impressive and varied collection which deserves a wider readership.
Profile Image for Paul Fulcher.
Author 2 books1,169 followers
February 26, 2020
One of the effects of battle in this region is that it makes poverty indistinguishable from war. A broken roof is a broken roof; its causes are unclear. It is left to the human body to mark the boundary where poverty ends and where political violence begins.

Minoli Salgado's collection of short stories Broken Jaw, published by 87 Press, is shortlisted for the 2020 Republic of Consciousness Prize. Her novel A Little Dust on the Eyes was published in 2014 by Peepal Tree Press, a publisher shortlisted for the Republic of Consciousness Prize in 2019

87 Press is a debutant on the RoC list:
The 87 is a small press, publishing collective, events organiser, and platform for discussion. It was founded in 2018 by South London based poets Kashif Sharma-Patel, Azad Ashim Sharma, and architect Devin Maisuria. We are committed to publishing the very best of bold, innovative and experimental writing from emerging and established writers. We publish poetry, fiction and non-fiction and are especially interested in supporting writers from under-represented, minority groups.
The author's own introduction to this collection (from https://minolisalgado.com/my-short-st...
My collection of short stories, Broken Jaw, focuses on the challenges of finding a voice. All the stories were written during or soon after the close of the civil war in Sri Lanka, and speak against silences – official and unofficial – testing the limits of what can be said. The collection is divided into two parts, ‘Rumours’ and ‘Ventriloquy and Other Acts’, that take the reader on a journey from the public world of political conflict to the private space of home, from the dislocations of violence and migration to a personal quest for peace and renewal, charting the emergence of a speaking voice in the context of its suppression and denial.
Rumours consists of 15 stories in less than 90 pages, mainly set in and around the war between the Sri Lankan Government and the LTTE (better known in the UK as the Tamil Tigers).

The Breach (https://themissingslate.com/2013/12/2...) is set in the closing days of the war, in May 2009, "when thousands of civilians were trapped in the tragically-misnamed No Fire Zone" (author interview: https://themissingslate.com/2014/01/1...) , as the government forces close in on the remnants of the LTTE forces. It begins:

It had taken just two days for Sumana to master the art of flattening her body against the wall of the bund so that she was thin as could be, just a fine leaf of bone. Above and behind lay the danger. The sky sawn open by planes dropping huge exploding eggs, bullets lashed into screams, shells breaking the earth. The scramble and press of bodies. In front only the earth wall offered the possibility of protection.

Breaking News is Borgesian, with a clever spin on Schrödinger's cat. Two brothers speak on the phone - the younger caught up in the fighting and the elder overseas, but, via the internet, better informed about what is actually going on that his sibling. As it becomes increasingly clear an explosion heard across the city was close to his brother's house, he frantically searches for new to tell his brother whether or not he is, in fact, dead, killed by a crashing plane.

A Feast of Words is a stunning piece of flash fiction set at the Galle Literary Festival in 2011, and reflects on the disappearance in 2010 of the journalist and cartoonist Prageeth Eknaligoda (https://www.englishpen.org/campaigns/...) who had been investigating whether the government had used chemical weapons against the LTTE. The author was recorded reading the story here: https://audioboom.com/posts/286209-mi...

The writers were at the table, eating each others words. Delicate morsels of sliced crime, tangy segments of romance, silver spoonerisms washed down with a glass of iced humour that turned the lips green.

‘How delightful’, one cooed, ‘I must try this at home.’

The wine critic was not sure. She would like to have sampled some rough shreds from a local saga of lost lives, but didn’t want to be first. She settled for some pickled irony instead. She might fold the saga in her napkin and eat it later in the leisure of her hotel room.

The book feast had been almost everything she’d hoped for. An orgy of words, with whale watching, devil dancing and fire walking between meals. The initial fuss that the feast was inappropriate, when the rest of the country was half-starved, had died down. Only a Nobel Laureate and a Booker Prize Winner had cancelled their meals. It was not much of a loss. She had tried their work and found it went poorly with Bordeaux.

The Nobel Laureate and Booker Prize winner concerned are Orhan Pamuk and Kiran Desai who boycotted the festival due to the allegations that the Sri Lankan government has been involved in the disappearance of journalists.

And the feast is interrupted – with perhaps my favourite line in the book: A plate of silence was served that made them feel hollow inside.

In Sassy, the funniest story in the collection, an author, is told to rewrite her novel in the style that the public want nowadays: sassy. She embarks on a crash course in 'sassy' culture - Absolutely Fabulous, Goodness Gracious Me and Sex in the City, Angela Carter, Zadie Smith and Salman Rushdie - a congested confabulation of the confederation of the culturally cognizant and confident, this peripatetic prosopopoeia of repartee, but things don't go quite as planned.

The three pieces in Ventriloquy and Other Acts are somewhat longer - around 15 pages each – and more poetic, and, in the author’s words form a triptych that transport the reader to the memoried landscape of three countries that shaped me: Sri Lanka, Malaysia and England. It is a story of a fertile imagination and a gift for adapting, mimicry and ventriloquy (the real menace of mimicry is the violent eloquence of Caliban) ... and of Marmite.

Overall an impressive collection – varied, powerful, innovative, cleverly constructed and lyrical. 4.5 stars.
Profile Image for Gumble's Yard - Golden Reviewer.
1,745 reviews1,193 followers
February 26, 2020
I read this book due to its longlisting for the 2020 Republic of Consciousness Prize for UK and Irish small presses - for which it has now been shortlisted.

It is published by The 87: “a small press, publishing collective, events organiser, and platform for discussion” which is “especially interested in supporting writers from under-represented, minority groups”

The author’s background (which is relevant to this book) is described on her website

Minoli Salgado was born in Kuala Lumpur and grew up in Sri Lanka, South East Asia and England. She was educated at schools in Penang Hill, Colombo (briefly) and North Devon before going on to study English Literature at the universities of Sussex, Manchester and Warwick. After gaining her PhD in Indo-Anglian fiction, she returned to the University of Sussex where she taught postcolonial literature for many years as Tutorial Fellow, Lecturer, Senior Lecturer, Reader and Professor of English.

The book itself is a collection of short stories, whose themes and structure is described in an excellent introduction by the author:

Though only some of the stories … engage with the war, all of them were written during or soon after the political conflict [the Sri Lankan civil war] and are conditioned by that time … Written between 1990-2011, they are also underscored by an exilic perspective that attempts to give meaning, pattern and shape to a home that appears to be torn apart … The book is divided into two parts – “Rumours” and “Ventriloquy and Other Acts” – that mark the permeable boundaries between public and private selves …. In everyday life, rumours occupy the place where public secrets congregate, They expand and grow in contexts if suppression where official facts are known to be lies. And ventriloquy is … an act of displaced speech … of finding a voice in a new guise.

The first section “Rumours” consists of 15 short stories (the longest 15 pages, the shortest – and the most powerful – 1 to 2 page pieces of flash fiction). The first 9 directly address the war and I think where the collection really comes to life is when the author combines excellent short story and flash-fiction skills with a powerful message: this is seen as its finest (in my view) in “A Feast of Words” and “Breaking News”.

“Million Dollar Wounds” – a UN officer reflects on a visit to a villager with a severely wounded child

“The Breach” features civilians caught up in the very end of the conflict (https://www.theguardian.com/world/201...)

“The Map” – a wounded (and delirious) army captain is pressed on where an ambush took place

“Brushstrokes” – a subversive artist is forced under torture to paint a picture of (I think) President Mahinda Rajapaksa

“The Dictionary of National Humilation” – a more absurdist story of a journalist gathering the testimony of writers writing less in a sense of “in the event of my death … ” than “in the knowledge of my [inevitable] death”

“A Feast of Words” – a brilliant account of censorship and boycotts at a Sri Lankan literary festival (http://www.tamilsolidarity.org/appeal...) after the disappearance of a journalist and cartoonist

“Breaking News” - on a superficial level an absurdist Schrodinger’s Cat account of an exiled man scanning the internet trying to let his Sri Lankan war zone based brother know if he (the brother) is alive or dead, killed in a bombing raid. On a deeper level though its about being an exile when your home country (and relatives still there) are caught in a vicious war and the anomaly that, due to censorship, you are better informed than them as to events but free of their terrible effects and powerless to save them.

“Too Many Legs” – a short but horrific tale of mixed body parts

“Releasing Maruis” – a fisherman’s son is abducted and murdered by security forces

Of the other stories, my favourites drew more directly on Sri Lanka:

“The Waves” is a short but powerful account of the Boxing Day Tsunami;

“Solitary Reaper” is of two Sri Lankans (a young man and a middle aged lady) who meet in exile in a Kent village, both haunted by the impact of the war on their fathers.

The other stories:
“Getting To No” – a story of a woman preparing to reject her husband’s attentions;
“Sassy” – a rather surreal story of an author under pressure to change her writing style, whose life is instead taken over by the new style;
“Father’s Will” – a story of two sons returning to an uncertain inheritance;
“Kethmuathie” (which I did not really understand) –

although showing good skill and imagination, I found much less appealing simply as I think they lacked the distinctiveness of the other stories.

The second section is a “fractured memoir” (with certainly auto-biographical elements) – with three sections (each of 10-15 pages) set respectively in Sri Lanka, Malaysia and England and setting out a childhood across those three countries. This is a story of growing up with a sense of displacement (shuttled from relatives to boarding schools by largely absent parents) and exile, and with language playing an important role: looking back on her time in Sri Lanka in the first section, the narrator can remember conversations in English even though she spoke Sinhalese at the time; later in an austere English boarding school she deliberately acquires (via mimicry) a cultivated English accent.

I must admit that I did not really connect to these sections – I could see what she was trying to do but the themes were for me obscured by the rather privileged (if not desirable) life described of houses with servants, and foreign private schools.

Overall though I found this a very good book and one of the strongest books on the longlist.
Profile Image for Neil.
1,007 reviews625 followers
February 5, 2020
A collection of 18 short stories, 15 in a section called Rumours and 3 in a section called Ventriloquy And Other Acts. The focus of the stories is Sri Lanka at the time of civil war. The first few stories are very clearly stories of the war and paint a dark picture of the country and what it is like to live there:

A dead body was less remarkable than a missing motorbike now

These first stories are very powerful and, sometimes, harrowing. The very first story, Million Dollar Wounds, for example, reflects on the visit of a UN officer to a village where a man has a severely wounded daughter. Of the million dollar wound, we read:

That is what the soldiers call it, Sir. A million-dollar wound that goes into the flesh but leaves the vital organs untouched. There are the regular wounds of war that break everything up, that leave you half the person you were before. And there are wounds as rare as gems that come to the lucky ones. These wounds keep you whole on the inside so you can become whole on the outside too. It is worth a million dollars to have a wound like that. You have been lucky.”

Gradually the focus becomes less precise and the stories broaden a bit. When we get to Ventriloquy And Other Acts, we are reading three short stories set in three different countries narrating the memories of the author of time spent in Sri Lanka, Malaysia and England.

For me, this gradual widening of the focus detracted from the power of the book and my favourite parts were definitely in the first 8-9 stories - as I read these, I was thinking this book would go very close to the top of my rankings of the 12 books longlisted for the 2020 Republic of Consciousness Prize. But, by the time I reached the end of the book, my enthusiasm had died down a bit, although the book is consistently well written and interesting.
Profile Image for Robert.
1,975 reviews190 followers
April 6, 2020
The title Broken Jaw comes from a line by T.S. Eliot : ‘This Broken Jaw of our Lost Kingdom’ which is the book’s epigraph. It also is apt considering the main theme of the book.

Sri Lanka has had a turbulent history, namely a bloody civil war that lasted from 1983 to 2009. As the author states in her introduction, a lot of literature is based on the war and a clutch of the short stories in this collection do as well.

Sometimes with short story collections it is better to take them as a whole, that way the short pieces form a clear picture, not unlike the photos in an album (a bit of an anachronism these days) and the first eleven stories display different aspects of the Sri Lankan war. The opener Million-Dollar Wounds sets the tone , with a girl whose legs are fused together due to the war. Her father sees this as something that makes her special, hence the Million-Dollar Wound. It’s poignant.

There are many moments like this. A Feast of Words is a clever metaphor heavy short piece which is about love, Too Many Legs is an absolute heartbreaker and is my standout story. Brushstrokes merges cruelty and beauty at the same time.

The remaining stories in the first part of this book, called Rumours, focuses on certain aspects of Sri Lankan life, old age, death, there’s also a small satire about Sri Lankan literature in the story Sassy, which gently echoes the author’s introduction.

The second part is called Ventriloquy and other Acts. This is a three act saga which starts off in post civil war Sri Lanka and shifts to a Sri Lankan experience of Britain (incidentally Malta gets a mention in the process). As a person who moved from Canada to Malta, I always enjoy reading these types of narratives and this does not disappoint as it captures the culture clash one experiences when moving from one place to another.

Broken Jaw is an excellent collection of short stories. Sometimes harrowing, definitely eye-opening and is makes one aware of Sri Lanka’s tumultuous history.
Profile Image for Ryan Dougans.
72 reviews2 followers
January 1, 2023
this is just... beautiful and harrowing and heart-breaking. one of the most wonderfully articulated exercises in self-discovery and identity i have ever read
Profile Image for LindaJ^.
2,113 reviews6 followers
February 28, 2020
I read this book as one of the nominees for the 2020 Republic of Consciousness prize. It is a book of short stories, ranging from 1.5 to 15 pages. It is divided into two parts, with Part I- Rumours - containing 15 stories with the first 9 and one other related to the impact of the 26 year civil war in the country that ended in 2009. Part II - Ventriloquy and Other Acts - has 3 stories that are somewhat autobiographical concerning a young girl's life at three stages.

I found the stories related to the civil war to be 5 star reads. The most devastating for me involve what I would call "collateral damage," i.e., the impact on people just trying to live their lives and having their homes destroyed and members of their families killed or disappeared. It brought to mind a visit to countries formerly part of Yugoslavia. A 26-year civil war seems insane -- well, all war seems insane and yet they continue. Stories such as these are important reminders of that insanity.

The other stories in Part I, with one exception, are varied but interesting. The exception is Kethumathie, which left me shaking my head and wondering what it was about - a reaction I think at least one other reviewer had.

Part II it seems is somewhat autobiographical in nature. In the first Act, the narrator is remembering her pre-school years living with her grandparents. In the second Act, the young girl is back with her parents for a short time, perhaps a year or so, during which they move often and the mother teaches the girl. In the third Act, the young girl is at a boarding school in England, where things are very regimented. I enjoyed these linked stories, although they do not pack the emotional wallop of the 10 war stories of Part I.

Read Paul's and Gumble's Yard's reviews for descriptions of all the stories.
1 review
May 4, 2020
I came to Broken Jaw having read Salgado's first novel, A Little Dust on the Eyes - winner of the very first SI Leeds Literary Prize in 2012. The thematic continuity between the two works is clear: both engage with the interplay of political violence, traumatic loss and the impact of exile and dislocation on both individuals and communities, mainly in Sri Lanka. Salgado, however, has mastered the art of exploring heavy topics with a lightness of touch that is at once poetic and powerful. These eighteen stories skilfully navigate their way through registers of stark realism (Million Dollar Wounds), brutal satire (A Feast of Words), choral testimony (The Waves) and - in the last autobiographical section of the book - a richly textured lyricism that is admirably controlled and contoured to the experience being explored. This is politically-engaged writing at its best. I am delighted to see that it has been longlisted for the Orwell Prize.
Profile Image for Bob Lopez.
723 reviews33 followers
November 26, 2020
The front half of stories I found more engaging than the back half, and certainly more than the second part of the book called Ventriloquy and Other Acts which I found nebulous and just out of reach.

In particular I was fond of the war stories that made up a list half the book:
Million Dollar Wounds about the devastating effects of war and napalm on children;
The Breach which I think was about air raids?;
Brushstrokes about a tortured multi-Media artist, arrested for drawing the leader in a cartoon, who was left alive only to paint a portrait of the Leader using his trademark multi-media style, paint, ground rock and gemstones;
Too Many Legs, literally about clearing up a suicide-bombing site and finding only legs and there being one too many.

Strong first half let down by the rest.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Konstantin R..
646 reviews22 followers
April 11, 2020
I attempted to read this for the Republic of Consciousness Prize and could not get through it. I didn't even finish one of the short/micro stories in the collection. Although I'm sure this is a very serious topic (Sri Lanka's civil war), none of the stories came to me. Perhaps they all added up in some way, but the pieces must have been too nebulous. I like the idea of giving voice to censored ideas and discourses, but this, I think, took itself too seriously and hurt its own chances with the reader by immediately putting itself on a pedestal of importance. I am happy it was not the winner of the Prize, and as a guest reader, I told the judges this much.
943 reviews12 followers
March 27, 2020
The brutality of the first few stories gradually gives way to a more nostalgic filtering of family, memory, and growing up. Even so the school-age novella that ends the book feels out of place. But it’s nice.
1 review1 follower
March 10, 2020
This is a gem of a book by a master narrator of prose. It is moving and beautiful in parts
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