Monday, July 6, 2009

Beyond the Cayenne Wall: Exotic Short Fiction

Last month I had the pleasure to review Saffron Dreams and to interview the author, Shaila Abdullah.

This month I read her debut book, Beyond the Cayenne Wall: Collection of Short Stories, published in 2005, which received the Jury Prize for Outstanding Fiction--the highest award in the Norumbega Fiction Awards--and the DIY Convention Award.

Although you don't typically find short fiction on summer reading lists, short stories are perfect for a morning at the beach, or an evening on the porch. My problem with short stories is that I tend to race through them, one right after the next. I finished reading Beyond the Cayenne Wall all too quickly, and longed for another story.

In Beyond the Cayenne Wall, Shaila Abdullah presents short stories about the often tumultuous lives of young women in Karachi, Pakistan. She brings Pakistan's largest city to life with vivid, descriptive prose, and even includes a glossary of Urdu words used in the book. These stories are not for the faint-of-heart. Each story is poignant and gives us an intimate look into the hearts and minds of seven Pakistani women:

Tannu, who's not allowed to seek work outside of the house, because she's seen as a "prized cow", an "incubator" for prospective offspring, but who fails to conceive.

Dhool, who's married to a man willing to allow his eleven-year-old daughter to get married to a rich old man.

Minnah, on the brink of marriage, who worries greatly about the secret she carries in her heart.

Shiwali, who's just going through the motions out of duty in a loveless marriage.

Siham, who wants to know the truth about her biological family, especially her father.

Mansi, who brings her aging mother from Pakistan to Texas to live with her.

Nyssa, who fears she will have to give back her beloved child, Vera.

Although these stories are fictional, they're based on the traditional way of life in Pakistan, which includes arranged marriages and limited roles for women. After reading this absorbing collection of short stories, I found myself grateful for the many freedoms I enjoy, and too often take for granted.

These haunting stories will remain in my heart and mind for years to come.

If you've read Beyond the Cayenne Wall or have a related comment or question, I'd enjoy hearing from you.


  1. I will look for this book. I love short stories because they fit into my schedule between classes.

  2. Love your site. I stopped by the other day to read the interview with Shaila Abdullah - very nice. I recently won a copy of Saffron Dreams and am looking forward to reading it.

    I nominated you for a blogger award. The details are here:
    One eyed stuffed bunny and ...

  3. Ramada, don't short stories fit well into a busy life?

    Cathy, I think you'll be entranced by Saffron Dreams. I'm honored by the award--thank you!

  4. Wow, this does sound like a great collection of short stories. I'm the same way, I tend read short stories too fast, and then I crave for more.


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