Banthology: Stories From Unwanted Nations

Title: Banthology: Stories From Unwanted Nations

Author: Various

Summary: In January 2017, President Trump signed an executive order banning people from seven Muslim-majority countries – Iran, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen – from entering the United States, effectively slamming the door on refugees seeking safety and tearing families apart. Mass protests followed, and although the order has since been blocked, amended and challenged by judges, it still stands as one of the most discriminatory laws to be passed in the US in modern times.

Banthology brings together specially commissioned stories from the original seven ‘banned nations’. Covering a range of approaches – from satire, to allegory, to literary realism – it explores the emotional and personal impact of all restrictions on movement, and offers a platform to voices the White House would rather remained silent.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 4/5

Review: Comma Press are probably my favourite publisher. They focus on short stories and delve into genres not commonly published, such as weird, translated, and activist subjects. They also cover science fiction, crime, and horror. Plus they have a few great book series including Refugee Tales and Reading the City. They’re a little niche, but it’s such a me niche, and the quality of the writing they publish is superb. Not to mention their gorgeous cover designs.

So yeah, i love Comma Press and own a small pile of books they’ve published. Surprisingly this is only the third i’ve read. (So many books, so little time!). Unsurprisingly, i loved it.

This book was created in response to the travel ban put in place in America, with authors from the countries included in the ban writing to “explore themes of exile, travel, and restrictions on movement.” I thought this was a brilliant idea, and with only seven stories (one from each country included in the ban), the book isn’t an intimidating read.

All the stories are wonderful. Not all are happy–in fact it could be argued that none of them are happy–but they are all so wonderfully told. I’m thinking about which ones i enjoyed the most, but i genuinely can’t pick a favourite. The few that stood out the most for me were Jujube, The Beginner’s Guide to Smuggling, and Storyteller. These were all about people looking to move and settle in other countries, but each story was unique in its approach to the character, the history, and the outcome. The other two stories that stood out for their much more unusual and less straightforward approach were Return Ticket (about a cosmic anomaly village called Schrödinger) and The Slow Man (about a conflict between the Egyptians and the Babylonians that changes the course of history).

Though these were stories, authors, and subjects outside of my usual reading matter, I really loved this book. It is a short, but worthwhile read and I would encourage anyone to pick it up and give it a go. Finishing it led me to the Comma Press website once again, and in an unsurprising turn of events i have added several more of their books to my “to buy” list. Oops?

Instruction Manual for Swallowing

Title: Instruction Manual for Swallowing

Author: Adam Marek

Summary: Robotic insects, in-growing cutlery, flesh-serving waiters in a zombie cafe… Welcome to the surreal, misshapen universe of Adam Marek’s first collection; a bestiary from the techno-crazed future and mythical past; a users’ guide to the seemingly obvious (and the world of illogic implicit within it). Whether fantastical or everyday in setting, Marek’s stories lead us down to the engine room just beneath modern consciousness, a place of both atavism and familiarity, where the body is fluid, the spirit mechanised, and beasts often tell us more about our humanity than anything we can teach ourselves.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 3.5/5

Review: I don’t even remember how, where, or why i came across this book, but it obviously intrigued me enough to add it to my wish list, because i got it for my birthday a couple of years ago. It was recently moved swiftly up the ‘to read’ list when it was mentioned at a short story workshop i attended. One of the exercises was to take two things that you would generally not mix and write a story about them (which his how i ended up writing about a first kiss at an exorcism!). This is, seemingly, what Marek does with these stories.

None of these stories are about what you expect. My favourite was Cuckoo, i think, because its elusiveness works so well; it has a well-rounded story that doesn’t give all of its pieces up at once. Robot Wasps and Meaty’s Boys are two that also sit strong in my mind. Meaty’s Boys is one of the longest stories in the book, but seemed to fly by in no time at all. It is also the story with the most well-built world. Though the world we glimpse in Robot Wars was fascinating and left me wanting to know more about it.

These weird little glimpses into strange quirky worlds are what i love about the best short stories. They don’t all make sense, they don’t all have an underlying message or meaning, and they don’t follow any kind of pattern. They’re mostly just light-hearted gems to while away a few minutes while you’re waiting for the bus. And if a few of them have any kind of depth to them, well, that’s a bonus for those who want to search for it.

I mostly dived into this book looking for inspiration for my own short story writing, and while i did find some of that, i also found doubt and uncertainty. What i found these stories mostly lacking was feeling. I found it easy, once i’d finished a story, to let go of it–to move on. I think that’s perhaps not the feeling i want my own stories to leave readers with, but i write things that are also a little off the wall and i’m starting to wonder… but that’s a whole other post.

The only other problem i had with some of these stories were a few of the male characters, who were off with other women, trying to recapture some bullshit emotions or shit, while leaving their long term partners at home literally holding the baby. I just can’t with these characters, and it makes me side-eye Marek a little that this is obviously so easy a character he can fall into writing.

But yes, silly, weird, and inspired short stories that made me laugh, intrigued, and inspired. Definitely want to read more.

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