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Book Review in Peeking Cat Poetry Magazine

Check out the review below or go to Peeking Cat Poetry Magazine to read poems by other writers in Issue 29, September 2017.

Editor’s Book Review: Chant of a Million Women by Shirani Rajapakse

This month I had the joy of reading Chant of a Million Women by Shirani Rajapakse, a Sri Lankan poet and fiction writer.

This poetry collection covers lots of themes, including identity, relationships, freedom, dignity, war, struggle and rape, but its main message is captured in the title poem, “Chant of a Million Women”, which opens with:

My body is a temple, not

a halfway house you enter for

temporary shelter from

the heat and dust swirling through trees.

This poem really embodies the spirit of the whole collection, giving women a voice, a reminder of our self-worth and ownership of our own bodies.

“I Live in Dreams” is a mingling of dreams, reality and longing, and a similar mix of melancholy and hope can be found throughout the collection. In particular, “Asking for It” is a powerful commentary on rape and victim-blaming culture, and “Unwanted” is short but touching, and one of my favourites. “To Dance with the Wind” has some wonderful imagery which really did make me feel like I had been picked up and taken by the wind.

Overall this collection is spirited and powerful, and above all, it has an important message that is expressed so well. This is one of my favourite collections I’ve reviewed so far, and I would thoroughly recommend it.

Chant of a Million Women is available in print from Lulu.com and Amazon, and also as an eBook at http://www.books2read.com/shiranirajapakse.

You can also find Shirani Rajapakse in Flash Fiction International, Mascara Literary Review, Asian Cha, Deep Water Literary Review, Dove Tales, Earthen Lamp Journal and City Journal, among others.

Sam Rose

>^..^<

 

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Review of Chant of a Million Women

On Basso Profundo, August 11, 2017.

 

Toward the end of Shirani Rajapakse’s plaintive and eloquent book of poetry, she has a piece called “The Poetess.” In its final lines she writes:

She walked with a spring in her step.
Her expression serious. They turned around
as they saw her pass.
She felt such pride. At last to be known.
Even if to just a few.
They did not know she had
nothing to show.

The last line surprised me, and moved me to immediate disagreement. Chant of a Million Women is certainly a notable achievement: it chronicles so many moods, in so many stories, from ancient Indian epic legends to the insurmountable challenges of every day. It consolidates and focuses our attention on the myriad ways men subjugate and objectify women, and the paltry few effective means women have to fight back. This applies particularly to cultures bound by tradition, such as one finds in India and the Middle East.

And women’s situations are so hopeless in this collection that fighting back isn’t really what it’s about. It’s about maintaining something so basic as one’s identity. So often used as a simple ornament, a status symbol, or property to be hidden away, the women in these poems lose their onetime promising selves to a male society, be it as some idealized – but definitely owned – prize, or a simple, reviled piece of furniture, or worse, a victim of violent crime.

Ms. Rajapakse places her poems in a number of milieux: traditional sexist households, dangerous, sometimes murderous, public thoroughfares, urban settings and rural. Often, no setting is specified, except the consciousness of the dispossessed woman.

A million women would indeed raise this chant. They would be fortunate were they to make it this resoundingly, with such force. The poetess distills their suffering to a specific litany, as though a bell were ringing to toll the offenses, forming a high-relief frieze of the hundreds of thousands of wives, daughters, and princesses whose stunted lives impoverish us all.

This is a distinctive, consistent collection in which the milk of human kindness has no place. Nowhere are the kind whispers of a lover or even the support of a life partner. Ms Rajapakse has consistently chosen her pieces with a eye to the plaints and sorrows of women. I salute the courage with which she lends her voice for the forgotten and uncared-for women suffering in so many places in the world. Take up Chant of a Million Women and experience its elegant phrases and its moral force.

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Beneath the Masks – Kari Holloway

My review of Beneath the Masks is up at Goodreads. You can also read this delightful short story at Amazon here.

Beneath the Masks by [Holloway, Kari]

“I wasn’t too sure what to expect as I’m not into fantasy but I was pleasantly surprised and glad I read Beneath the Masks. I liked the start, how the scene is set with the three moons glowing in the sky and then moves to the ball inside. It felt a little like reading a historical romance but with the touches of fantasy. The story ended at just the right place, keeping readers wondering if there is more. Loved it.”

 

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Windy City Sinners -Melanie Villines

My review of Melanie Villines very interesting book Windy City Sinners is up at Goodreads. Check it out, along with other reviews at the link, or read it below.

Everyone’s a sinner and a saint.

I didn’t know what to expect from a book described as “A Magic Realism Crime Novel”, but the more I read the more involved I became in the lives of the residents in that little neighborhood on the Far Northwest Side of Chicago. As my eyes ran over the words, I was pulled in. I found myself cruising down the road looking for a house to move into and observe everyone I met within the pages. I wanted to take my laundry to Redemption Dry Cleaners to know what Virginia had to say about my level of sin.

Everyone sins but in Windy City Sinners, you can get your sins washed away at Redemption Dry Cleaners at a price, and that price keeps rising as the fame and success of the dry cleaning business grows. People go into debt just to get their sins washed away little realizing that money cannot pay for sins committed. Yet the owner and originator of this unique business, Virginia, is least bothered where the money comes from, as long as it keeps coming.

“Does the State of Illinois ask where people get the money to buy lottery tickets? Do the riverboats ask where people get the money they spend in the slot machines and at the gaming tables? Does the Catholic Church ask where each dime comes from that goes into the collection plate?”

Every character has his/her spot in the limelight and readers are given a front row seat to their lives to view their sins. Everyone is a saint and sinner rolled into one. What’s interesting is that while they commit the most unbelievably bizarre crimes one can’t feel negatively about any of the characters. Even Grazyna who steals from the dead without remorse, is quite likable. We find ourselves sympathizing with her views, and even accepting that there is nothing wrong with taking from the dead since what use are all those decorations placed on their graves since they are no more.

“Grazyna doesn’t see this as robbery. Silk flowers are expensive, after all. And what good are they to the dead? The flowers look much better in her yard. The departed souls have told her as much. She confers with them, asking for their consent before she takes the flowers. Grazyna considers herself fortunate –life is so much simpler when you receive permission for an act that most people would deem as a sin.”

Everyone wants to lead a good life and they are trying to find ways to do so, legally or illegally. They are also trying hard to be good people in the eyes of God, and are always making excuses for their sins or trying to find ways of redeeming their sins.

Marek impersonates a black man to rob because he thinks no one would suspect a white man of holding up dry cleaners. A recent immigrant, he needs the money to make his dream come true, and he reasons with himself that,

“outright robbery is more honest than corporate deceit.”

Father Spinelli the frustrated and angry pastor is not interested in tending to his flock. Being in the Church is merely a means of employment. He yearns to become as famous as Father Antonio Vivaldi and the inability to realize his ambitions has made him into a bitter man who has no choice but to listen to the problems of his congregation while all he wants is to make music, get a record deal and become famous.

The author succeeds in keeping the reader waiting to turn the page and discover more. This was one book I found hard to stop reading, and was quite disappointed that it had to end. It’s entertaining and hilarious and you feel for the characters, all of them. There’s good and bad in all of us and the characters of Windy City Sinners are proof of that. Everyone’s faults and weaknesses are brought out into the open and analyzed. We see kindness lurking in almost everyone coupled with greed and avarice. We also see the sheer determination and effort the characters put into what they do to deceive everyone around them, like Officer Jerry Valentino, who tries to hide the stash of drugs in the statue of the Virgin Mary and the crimes Sammy the mafia man is willing to commit in order to quit his line of work.

Money and fame are the guiding forces behind every action of the characters. When Virginia’s dry cleaning business becomes almost like a religious cult, Grazyna also decides to get in on the sin redemption business and starts the Spotless Souls Housekleaning Service selling a line of sin-removing sponges and other do-it- yourself products.

“She realizes there’s no end to ways you can make money – once you get started with a good, solid business concept.”

Everything is business and everyone wants to make it big. Yet there is a price to pay as everyone finds out. But do they learn from their mistakes? Or from the clairvoyant cat?

 

Flash Fiction International

A review of Flash Fiction International at Kitaab. To read it go here.

“Right on the trail of Kafka and coincidentally just a few pages after him, we have the story “Shattered” by Shirani Rajapakse from Sri Lanka. The title hits the reader like the single-worded and sometimes monosyllabic title of a horror movie. Now this is not the case at all in terms of genre but the events described are nothing short of horrifying. The writer speaks about war, like many other Lankan writers do, but Shattered puts a unique spin on the theme.”

Flash Fiction International – a review

“As much as I love and admire full-length fiction, these little marvels have had such a salutary effect on me. I highly recommend them for you, too. Take and enjoy. The doses might be small but they are always  bracing!”

Check out the review of Flash Fiction International by Luke Sherwood in Basso Profundo.