Part short fiction and, seemingly, part autofiction, Anosh Irani’s latest book takes readers into and around the experiences of living between countries – Canada and India – between identities, and between stories. In these works, we see the desires, hopes, fears, and regrets of each protagonist and watch as the characters become entwined in various schemes, either by their own doing or that of others. At times, the conflicts in these pieces approach cinematic heights of melodrama; at other points, it is easy to recognize the ways these fictions could be someone’s lived reality.
Through Irani’s patient and smooth prose, we encounter a chef who recreates his mother’s butter chicken recipe on a talk show; a friendly confectioner whose kindness leads him to danger; a tortured woman who believes her son has been reincarnated as a penguin in a Mumbai zoo; and a circus clown determined to secure the love of his life. The latter two stand out: the intense longing and agony of these protagonists shine through the charm and inventiveness of the plots.
The stories are flanked by Irani’s beautiful and visceral reflections on his own experience as an immigrant. Two decades ago, the author decided to leave his home in Bombay and set off for a completely unknown city – Vancouver – surprising his friends and family. His plan, which he’d secretly concocted, was to become a writer, and eventually he garnered literary acclaim via his novels and plays. In this bookending “half truth,” readers can catch a glimpse into Irani’s back-and-forth mental state: the fragmentation, sleep-deprivation, shifts in world view, thoughts on his literary success, and the lives that inevitably go on without him – all of it cast in language that is as hopeful as it is stirring.
The writing in Irani’s fragment of autobiography dips into and out of stream of consciousness, with thoughts on how one should properly be buried, the divine nature of water, and ever-grander musings on Earth, human beings, and reality. This is imbued with sufficient lyricism and tremendous flow to pull the reader along and remain grounded. These sections invite meditation on the titular idea of translation: what do translations attempt to do (explain? bridge?), what exactly constitutes gibberish, does Irani think his literary translation of his own experiences is an effective means of communication?
The narrators in the short stories – at once humorous and reflective – provide guidance and reassurance; it is the narration that irrevocably draws one in, moves one forward, and cements a trust in this writing. (Although the dialogue is wonderful, too.) The consistent withholding of denouements had me catching my breath, my brain filling with questions, yet impelled me forward. Irani is an expert and unique storyteller, no sentence being either superfluous or underwhelming. The reader is in these stories with the characters, welcoming the need to understand their pain, confusion, and joy. In its style, scope, and narrative magnetism, Translated from the Gibberish is especially inventive and unforgettable.