Marc de Faoite reviews ‘Jungle without Water and Other Stories’ by Sreedhevi Iyer

By Marc de Faoite

Populations and identities are in flux now more than they have ever been in the history of humanity. It’s increasingly normal for people to live, work, or study in countries other than those in which they are born. Sometimes these displacements are voluntary. Sometimes they are due the imperatives of war, or famine – or increasingly – spurred on by climate change.

Historical population movements, particularly over the last few hundred years due to colonialism, still have very real implications today. Migration and immigration, whether forced or voluntary, have created patchwork societies, with pockets of populations proudly tracing their roots to countries those who claim these affiliations might not even know.

The ten stories in Sreedhevi Iyer’s collection Jungle without Water all deal in one way or another with a sense of dislocation. In this globalized era still reeling from the impact of colonialism it’s a collection for our times.

The fate of the South Indian diaspora in Malaysia is the theme of the majority of these stories, and to my mind the stories that deal directly with this are the strongest.

Among those I particularly enjoyed were The Man with Two Wives. Indeed it might be the most powerful story in the book. Written in colloquial Malaysian-Indian English, it deftly tackles important themes such as access to education, or rampant discrimination, both casual and official, weaving these themes seamlessly into the story. The casual spoken style gives it a unique immediacy and a real sense of authenticity. I would have happily followed the main character all the way through a novel.

I.C. is a wonderful story. Considerably reworked from the version included in Everything About Us: Readings from Readings 3, it now features two intertwining narratives, essentially two separate stories, where implications of identity are the common theme.

Kadaram is one I’ve read before. It was featured in Asian Cha and recounts a Malaysian family’s trip to Tamil Nadu where the father enthusiastically traces his historic roots. It is beautifully written and highly evocative.

Cake and Green M&Ms is a devastating story of two old classmates meeting after years, all seen through the eyes of a little girl. This story was one of the highlights for me.

As in any collection some stories are stronger than others, but the writing throughout is impeccable, and frequently lyrical. The writer has an eye for detail and an ear for diction. It’s wonderful to read contemporary Malaysian writing of this high standard and I hope to read more from the author in the future. Highly recommended.

About Marc de Faoite

Born in Dublin, Marc de Faoite is based in Langkawi and has lived in Malaysia fulltime since 2007. His short stories, articles, and book reviews have been published both in print and online, both locally and internationally. Tropical Madness, a collection of his short stories published by Malaysian publisher Fixi Novo, was longlisted for the 2014 Frank O’Connor International Short Story Prize.