Goldberg, “The First Five-Dozen Tales of Razia Shah: and Other Stories” (Reviewed by Dan Call)

Author: James Goldberg
Title: The First Five-Dozen Tales of Razia Shah: and Other Stories
Beant Kaur Books, 2019.  Short stories.

Reviewed by Dan Call, July 2020.

The premise for the title story of this book seems prescient for our socially distant times: a teen stuck at home tells herself stories to keep herself from taking her own life. The stories initially seem random and a bit indulgent, as one might expect from a mind such as Razia’s, but a bigger picture starts to emerge, and wow is it beautiful.

And “Razia Shah” sets the tone for this collection of stories. The others stories all have to do with the role and power of storytelling in making meaning of our existence, sometimes as exercise that proves increasingly valuable over time (“Teancum Singh Rosenberg”), sometimes as an impediment to grasping reality (“Amir Mousa”), and other times as the only way, even if irrational, of approaching reality (“Maulana Azad”).

The deeply personal “Soujourners” pulls off a lovely balancing act, filtering urgent stories from our times through cosmological events from Jewish culture. I’m in awe of how well the author pulls this off in so few words, and am a little tickled at how much the structure reminds me of Eco’s “Foucault’s Pendulum.”

After finishing, I handed it off to my teen reader, who polished it off in a day. We’ve got a few educational pathways opened up to us now, too, and will plan on learning more about Herschel of Ostropol, Maulana Azad, Balbir Singh Sodhi, Rashid al-Mansur, and a handful of other people who made appearances in this book, walking back and forth between the worlds of reality and story.

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