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One World:
A Global Anthology of Short Stories

Various Authors

"The Kongs are a bit funny. The kids are normal enough: Sdever likes to chew on cotton buds, Ling-Ling operates on her dolls with scissors. Mrs Kong drinks White Russians in the afternoon and insists it's only milk."

Reviewed by Annie Clarkson

One World is an anthology of stories from Malaysia, Nigeria, Puerto Rico, South Africa, Botswana, Bangladesh, US, Cameroon, Wales, Greece, Zimbabwe, Kenya, India, Australia.

These stories were written by a group of writers, invited by Nigerian journalist Ovo Adagha to gather on the writer-webspace Zoetrope. Their stories explore issues around poverty, mental ill health, childhood, loss, war, depression, isolation, identity. They are richly varied, exploring for example, the lives of a widow who is seen not to be grieving enough by her mother-in-law, a Nigerian boy forbidden to speak Igbo so he can develop good English, and an Inuit girl who is rowed to the mainland by her parents to an unknown fate.

Jhumpa Lahiri, author of the Interpreter of Maladies and Unaccustomed Earth, and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, author of Half of a Yellow Sun, both contributed excellent stories. The Third and Final Continent depicts some beautifully poignant moments between an Indian man who has arrived in America for the first time, and his 100 year old landlady. My Mother, The Crazy African is another story of immigrant experience, exploring the difficulties a child has growing up with two languages and cultures, and the clash between daughter and mother is devastating. 

But there were other stories by unfamiliar writers that resonated as much if not more. I loved Leng Lui is for Pretty Lady, by Elaine Chiew. It is the story of Alina who is from Manila and works in Kong Kong as an amah for a rich family. We are given brief insight into the experiences of immigrant workers, separated from their families, and trapped in jobs that at times might subject them to abuse. The story is wonderfully written, full of character, chatter and noise, with a real sense of Alina's character in her voice.

I loved Henrietta Rose Innes' story, Porcelain. The imagery of the ocean, milkwood and broken pottery is beautiful: "debris of the Indian Ocean had gathered over centuries: cracked pieces of fie old porcelain along with rubber flip-flops and sand frosted bottlenecks". It is a story of mothers, daughters, aunties and sisters. It shows how mental illness can be like the broken vases on the beach that the women try and jigsaw back together. It is a surprisingly gentle and brutal story.

Another strong story is Melancholy Nights in a Tokyo Cyber Café by Sequoia Nagamatsu. It deals beautifully with feelings of loneliness, isolation and the brief connections that occur between Akira and Yoshiko. There are so many references in this story, including an incident of group suicide in Japan, and the Sarin attacks that occurred in Tokyo. This painful desolate story will stay with you a long time, and grounds you in Tokyo with details of markets, Ueno Park, the internet café where Akira eats rice balls stuffed with tuna fish. 

Since reading this anthology, I've been trying to work out how I feel about the concept of "One World". It sounds too simple, this idea that the world is one entity and unified. Yet, as I read the stories, I found concepts, themes, emotions, and types of relationship that travelled between stories, described common experience, conveyed issues that are understood cross-culturally, essentially because we are human.

A story about a Filipino maid who is working for an employer who takes her for granted is very different from the story of a man in Tokyo who goes on the internet to try and counterbalance his loneliness by connecting with similar-minded people. Their landscapes are very different, their language and customs, their daily existence, and yet there is something in both these stories that made me as a reader connect with them both in a similar way. Perhaps it is because each character wants to be "normal" in some way, just like everyone else. Perhaps it is because each character struggles in some way to understand their experience, and is striving for more, by either wanting to be treated differently, or wanting to connect with others.

There were a few stories I didn't like, didn't get carried away with and it was interesting that there were seven stories from Nigerian writers; a confluence which perhaps unbalanced the notion of "one world" that the collection was seeking. But, overall, the quality of storytelling in this anthology is exciting. The anthology seemed especially strong in conveying the experiences of children, either through a child's voice, about childhood or looking retrospectively back at memories of being children. Before Tonde After Tonde by Petina Gappah for example, is brilliantly authentic. It mixes Parka jackets, EastEnders and playstation games with memories of living in Zimbabwe where maid Sisi-Annie sang songs in Chimbeti. A powerful story about family, identity, loss, it is unexpected, playful, and harsh.

One World is an anthology to immerse yourself in, diverse in its story-telling, emotionally resonant, and a great introduction to unfamiliar and well-known writers from around the world.

Read the title story from this collection in the New Internationalist

 Annie Clarkson is a poet and short story writer living in Manchester, UK. Her first chapbook of prose poems Winter Hands was published by Shadow Train Books in 2007

Annie's other Short Reviews: Anthony De Sa "Barnacle Love"

Laura Chester "Rancho Weirdo"

Daniel Grandbois "Unlucky Lucky Days"

Josephine Rowe "East of Here, Close to Water"

Mark Illis "Tender"

Publisher: New Internationalist

Publication Date: April 2009

Paperback/Hardback? Paperback

First anthology?: Yes

Book website: One World Stories 

Authors: Elaine Chiew, Molara Wood, Martin A Ramos, Henrietta Rose-Innes, Lauri Kubuitsile, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Shabnam Nadiya, Ravi Mangla, Chika Unigwe. Dipita Kwa, Vanessa Gebbie, Sequoia Nagamatsu, Jude Dibia, Konstantinos Tzikas, Petina Gappah, Ken N Kamoche, Lucinda Nelson Dhavan, Adetokunbo Gbenga Abiola, Skye Brannon, Wadzanai Mhute, Ivan Gabriel Reborek, Ovo Adagha, Jhumpa Lahiri.

(All authors' royalties from the sale of One World will be donated to Médecins Sans Frontières.)

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If you liked this book you might also like....

Jhumpa Lahiri "Interpreter of Maladies"

Jhumpa Lahiri "Unaccustomed Earth"

Ken M Kamoche "A Fragile Hope"

Petina Gappah "An Elegy for Easterly"

Vanessa Gebbie "Words from a Glass Bubble"

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie "The Thing Around Your Neck"

"Work In Progress and other stories (The Caine Prize for African Writing 2009)"

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