An American joins a pilgrimage in India, and finds herself drawn to an old, possibly cursed woman.
(from The O. Henry Prize Stories 2002, on extended loan from the Lori Hill Library)
Leela studies the kaleidoscope of emotions flitting across the women’s faces. Excitement, pity, cheerful outrage. Can it be true, that part about an unlucky star? In America she would have dealt with such superstition with fluent, dismissive ease, but India is complicated. Like entering a murky, primal lake, in India she has to watch her step.
One thing this story does well (and there are many things) is juxtapose a common American mindset with an Indian one, and then let you guess which side is right. But the route is indirect, the comparison non-confrontational. The language is sometimes sharp and sometimes elaborate, at all the right times. And the names — places, people, foods — put you in a foreign place without making you feel like any more of a tourist than Leela. There are parts to make you worried, sad, angry and elated.
You should read it. Here‘s a link to Agni, where it was originally published.
Here‘s a link to the author’s web site.
Jack Rose, “Kensington Blues”