Fiction, short stories
Tea & Other Ayama Na Tales by Eleanor Bluestein is a collection of short stories that all take place in the fictional country of Ayama Na. The author took her knowledge and experience of traveling around Asia and created her own country in which to place these 10 stories.
Short stories are an interesting literary form, as each story stands on its own with its own characters and conflicts, yet grouped with the other stories in the collection, the reader should see a common thread, a common theme. I think Bluestein does an excellent job of showing how a country, particularly a poor country, and its people can have a hard time coming into the modern day.
I think in general the first story of a short story collection sets the tone of the stories. In Tea & Other Ayama Na Tales, the first story, “Pineapple Wars”, gives you a sense of the author’s dark sense of humor. Slimree is tired of even half-heartedly caring for his aging and dementia addled father, a duty that used to be an honor but has become a burden with the fast paced society that replaced the “old country”. Slimree gets his just reward for taking care of his father in an ironic twist of fate.
One of my favorite stories was “Hamburger School”, about Mahala and Rayhee, both sixteen years old and both working at a local McDonald’s. Mahala and Rayhee are the best of friends, but are completely opposite in their family lives and personality. Rayhee has grown up with a father who’s molested her, so when her supervisor sexually harasses her, she thinks she has no choice but to take it. Mahala has a happy family, a father who encourages her to always do better and who helps her expand her thinking. This could be any story, really, and I’m sure it’s been told a thousand times in a thousand settings. But what made this story stand out was Mahala’s father’s wisdom, particularly after one of Mahala’s friends commits suicide:
One day, while looking in her eyes, her father asked if she remembered what she’d learned about time, how she’d told him the tricks it played, how it could slow itself down or speed itself up. Certainly she remembered, she said, and to demonstrate to her father that his words had staying power, she recalled aloud that the way time passed in your mind wasn’t time playing tricks. It was the mind understanding time the way the clock didn’t.
“If you think about that,” her father said, “you’ll realize that under certain circumstances every day can be longer than twenty-four hours, much longer in fact. An outsider might think someone who died at sixteen died too young, but the person who died might have felt they’d lived a very long life, even longer than mine. One day, Mahala, you’ll understand this.”
“…the person who died might have felt they’d lived a very long life, even longer than mine.” I think this is such a good point to remember. I’m not saying that suicide is the answer to anything, just that this sentence might help explain why someone would feel old at such a young age.
My other favorite story was the title story, “Tea”. Pania is seventeen years old and her father is insisting she come to dinner with him to be examined by another family as a possible wife for their son. Pania is infuriated by this, by her father’s insistence on ruining her life. In frustration, she calls her older brother, Kol, who tells her to meet her at a particular cafe.
“The customers in this cafe don’t order,” Kol said….”When they have a moment to spare, they’ll observe us, and based on their observations and intuition they’ll choose the appropriate beverages for us….For example,” Kol said, “if it’s early morning and a patron stumbles in half asleep, they might serve an espresso with double shots of caffeine. For a cranky child, a mug of hot chocolate and a rice cake. For the agitated, a soothing green or jasmine tea. I imagine we’ll be served tea, but perhaps a surprise. Regardless, they’ll bring what we need.”
It’s at this cafe that Pania learns patience and starts becoming less self-centered.
I think one of the main themes in Tea & Other Ayama Na Tales is the old country clashing with the new country Ayama Na is trying to become. Though set in a fictional Asian country, these stories transcend the fictional country they are set in and come alive to be relevant in any real country.
Rating: 90 out of 100
***Make sure you check back tomorrow because I’ll be posting my interview with the author!***