Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Breathless in Bombay by Murzban F. Shroff

Breathless in Bombay by Murzban F. Shroff
St. Martin’s Griffin, 2008 (ARE)
Fiction (short stories); 306 pgs

Started: 01/01/2008
Completed: 01/09/2008
Rating: 4 Stars (Very Good)

First Sentence: Mataprasad Mahadev, fifty-three, dark, and fiercely mustached, was in a thoughtful mood as he sat legged in dhoti and chappals on the floor of the luggage compartment of the Churchgate-bound local.

Reason for Reading: India is one of many countries I enjoy reading about and so I was immediately drawn to this book when it was offered for review through Library Thing’s Early Review program. This also fits in with the Short Story Challenge, and is my first selection of short stories counting towards that.

Comments: Author Murzban F. Shroff attempts to capture the dichotomy of Bombay, both the beauty and the ugliness, and he succeeds. Fourteen short stories offer a glimpse into the cultures and lives of every day people in Bombay, from the rich to the working class to the poor.

Often my biggest complaint about short stories is reaching the end and wondering, "That's it?" That was not the case with Murzban F. Shroff's collection of stories. Each story stood on solid ground, the characters well developed in their complexities and lifestyles and the stories quickly and effectively established. There was not one story that I did not like, each a stand out in its own way. The fourteen stories that made up the collection were varied, some dark and sad while others more hopeful. Each of them was about the struggles of survival in a city where people flocked to for a better life and fought to survive in at the darkest of times.

Among my favorites was the story of Chacha Sawari and his horse Badshah in The Queen Guards Her Own. Chacha was a man who took pride in his work and loved his horse. He did not have much in the later years of his life, and yet he made the best of it, always looking out for Badshah. Even amidst the poverty and prejudice of the wealthy, Chacha remained hopeful. Then there was the story, The Great Divide, about an elderly woman and her husband who had taken in a servant. A recent rash of murders of elderly by their servants set Mrs. Mullafiroze on edge and she feared for her own life and that of her husband. A Different Behl and This House of Mine demonstrated the depth of good friendships while Jamal Hoddi's Revenge showed a man with nothing to lose in his darkest hour. There was a story of love lost in Traffic, and love found in Breathless in Bombay, the final story of the book.

Murzban did not hesitate to paint a colorful picture of Bombay throughout his stories, including the warts of the disparity between the poor and the wealthy, prejudice, the clash of tradition and progress, as well as the corruption and greed. And yet, woven within the stories was also hope, the love of family and the power of friendship and community. Breathless in Bombay took me right onto the streets of Bombay and into the lives of the various characters.


  1. What a wonderful review, Wendy! I always find it interesting to read about other cultures through novels, because besides the stories we also get to learn about their country, people and culture too. :)

  2. This sounds very good and I love the cover! I can't remember if you've read The Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri yet. If not, you definitely should. :)

  3. What a great cover. I think on that alone I would have picked this book up but I'm glad you are giving it a good review too - more reason to put it on the TBR list :)

  4. I'm not the biggest fan of short stories. Like you said, they often leave you wanting more. This collection, however, sounds like something I might like to read. Great review.

  5. I also really enjoy reading books set in India. This one will be added to my TBR pile!

  6. Great review. I, too, enjoy reading books set in India. Two that I really enjoyed were Bombay Lost and Found (nonfiction & courtesy of Lotus) and The Space Between Us (novel) by Thrity Umrigar.

  7. Your review makes me want to read this one!

  8. Isn't that a wonderful feeling? Reading stories that stand so solidly on their own? I read a superlative one this weekend that I need to post about.

    Great review, as always!

  9. How interesting! This looks like a great read! Thanks for the review!

  10. What a wonderful review :) I find India fascinating too, and I'm always interested in reading about it.

    I find it harder to be completely satisfied with short stories than with novels, but there is nothing so satisfying as a really well-done short story!

  11. Sounds very good--I'm going to put this on my wish list to check out later. I love short stories, but I don't make very much time for them, so I joined this challenge as well.

    Have you read Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children? I recommend it!

  12. What a terrific review. Love the cover of that one and I've already stuck it on the mental wish list - now I just need to actually write the title down. :)

  13. I'd love to read more short stories but have to admit that I too struggle with the "that's it?" feeling they often give me. This sounds like a very interesting collection without the "that's it?" factor, so I'll have to put it on my list. Great review!

  14. Melody - Thank you so much. I enjoy reading about other cultures too. It can be quite interesting to step into someone else's shoes for awhile and put that person in an entirely different country and lifestyle, and I feel like I'm on a real journey.

    Tanabata - I haven't yet rad Lahiri's short story collection, but it's on my Short Story Challenge list for this year. :-) I'm looking forward to reading the book.

    Jen - I enjoyed it. I really liked the author's style and am so glad I had the chance to read it.

    Iliana - I like the cover too. :-) I think it's worth reading. Most of the stories are more on the sad side than the happy, but they really are good.

    Trisha - Thank you. Short stories are too short more often than not, I think. I just don't find short stories nearly as satisfying in general. I was so relieved that this collection was as fulfilling as it was.

    Alisia - I seem to be collecting them lately. :-)

    Jenclair - Thank you. The Space Between Us was an awesome novel. I read another of Thrity Umrigar's books, Bombay Time, and really enjoyed it, although not quite as much. I'm anxious to get my hands on her most recent book.

    Terri - I think it's worth reading!

    Andi - It is a wonderful feeling! It really makes me appreciate the effort and skill a writer puts into writing the story too. Writing good short stories is not as easy as one might think.

    Jaimie - The author really wanted to get across his love and hate relationship with his home, and I think he succeeded for the most part.

    Nymeth - Thank you. There's just something about India that draws me in.

    And I agree with you about a well-done short story. They are quite satisfying.

    Trish - I think I sometimes put short story reading on the same level of priority as my magazine reading. I really should read more short stories--especially since I seem to have quite a few collections and anthologies lying around here.

    I haven't yet read anything by Rushdie, but I do have one of his books on my shelf waiting to be read. I don't believe it is Midnight Children, but I'll definitely add that one to my wish list.

    Nancy - Thank you. I know how that goes! My mental list can get very cluttered if I don't remember to write things down. And hopefully before I forget altogether!

    Megan - Thank you. I am glad that I am not the only one. :-)

  15. I don't really care for short stories myself. I like to take my time getting to know the characters and living in the story, and I don't want it to over too soon. I guess a really talented writer could do that in a short story but it's very rare.

  16. I was sorely tempted to request an ER copy of this book, but refrained as I'm trying not to overextend myself with that program. Now I'm wishing I'd given in! Thanks for the great review.

  17. I like the variety of the books you select to read. This is something I definitely would not have found on my own. Thanks for the review!

  18. Framed - I lean in that direction most of the time too, although I think I'm coming around to appreciating short stories more. I doubt I would ever make short stories my main reading staple, but they're proving to be a nice change once in awhile.

    Lesley - I completely understand and not wanting to overextend yourself with the Early Review program. I figure I'm due for a hiatus myself. It's hard though when they throw in such tempting books. Of course, I think my luck has run dry since I received four books in a row through the program.

    Carrie - Thanks, Carrie. One of the things I love about lit blogs is a chance to find books I might not have discovered on my own. :-)

  19. Great review! I also put my name in for this with the Early Reviewers Program but didn't get it. So, I've had my eye out for this and am so happy to see a good review of it. I am generally not a short story reader, but this one really sounded good. I've been wanting to read some books about this part of the world - you wrote that you enjoy books about India - what would you recommend?

  20. Tara - I haven't come across anyone I "know" who has read it, which is kind of disappointing. I did read a few of the other reviews at the Library Thing site and they were mixed.

    I'm partial to Umrigar Thrity and Amulya Malladi and they seem to be good places to start. I will be reading Lahiri's short story collection this year, having read The Namesake last year. I really enjoyed that one as well.


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