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Awake When All the World Is Asleep

by Shree Ghatage

The title story in Shree Ghatage’s first collection, Awake When All the World Is Asleep, comes from a conversation between two servants in a middle-class Bombay apartment building. When one character complains about being sent to another household to replace a vacationing cook, her friend responds with calm resignation, “We were born to serve, you and I…nobody can change that…. Who can change Fate? It is watching over all of us…. It is awake when all the world is asleep.”

This short exchange between two servants about their roles in contemporary Indian society captures the central tension informing all of the stories in this collection. The conflict between entrenched tradition and the burgeoning expectations of members of a modern, urban culture continually asserts itself in the lives of Ghatage’s characters.

In several of the stories, Ghatage focuses on the confusion of young, middle-class women, educated to pursue professional careers, yet still expected to concede to their parents’ matchmaking strategies. A young woman returning to Bombay from Winnipeg where she is studying to be a doctor must contend with her family’s antagonism towards her Canadian fiancé. This parental pressure is matched by her own internal sense of conflict and division.

Ghatage weaves together past and present in these linked stories, subtly revealing histories that impinge upon the living, patterns that cannot be broken. It may not be fate that determines the direction her characters’ lives will take, but at times the convergence of tradition and tragedy makes it seem as if an unseen hand is at work.

Ghatage’s lucid prose and the warmth with which she treats her characters are reminiscent of another wonderful Indo-Canadian writer, Rohinton Mistry. A native of Bombay now living in Newfoundland, Shree Ghatage’s fiction moves effortlessly between worlds, capturing with grace and humour the struggle to live in the modern world without forsaking the past.


Reviewer: Louise Cameron

Publisher: House of Anansi


Price: $18.95

Page Count: 160 pp

Format: Paper

ISBN: 0-88784-602-5

Released: Oct.

Issue Date: 1997-12

Categories: Fiction: Short