Ground Zero is a promising addition to the available literature on the subject of the immigrant experience.
This collection of short stories focuses on Indian women, at work and home, who are dealing with issues such as infidelity, faith, family, and identity in a place where they look, and feel, other-than. In one story, a woman’s inability to conceive is complicated by a respected religious figure’s offer to help her in the most hands-on matter imaginable; she opts to remain faithful to her husband. It’s touching and likely to resonate with many readers. In another story, a nurse working with young women suspects some of them of feigning rape, and we wonder if that bias is cultural or just a byproduct of the job. There are lots of big ideas here.
It’s clear that author Rani Naginder Kaur knows the stories she wants to tell and has both an eye for detail and ear for natural conversation and dialect. The trouble with Ground Zero is that the translation into English is cluttered and fraught with error. “Quite” and “quiet” are used interchangeably, and “Tree-tree,” after much puzzling over by this reviewer, revealed itself to be a “treaty.” It’s impossible to enjoy the storytelling when there are so many steps involved in simply trying to discern the meaning. Even so, you can catch glimpses of the craft through the errors, such as this original insight: “There is a huge difference between a husband and lover—one a cool computer and other burning sun.”
It’s unfortunate that what is clearly a strong work of fiction can’t be recommended unequivocally. Ground Zero needs a new translation and comprehensive copyedit before English-speaking readers will be able to follow it. Let’s hope this happens, so that the stories can realize their great potential.
Also available as an ebook.