Anyone having spent time in the eclectic, spirited world of literary journals and critical study would be, at the very least, peripherally aware of the important cosmopolitan work Dr. Sunil Sharma has done as a publisher, editor, and critic, most prominently with Setu Bilingual Journal, not to mention chairing countless other initiatives promoting language and the arts, and amplifying diverse voices in riveting and significant ways.
Besides his noble work providing crucial support to burgeoning talents at all stages in their creative journeys, Dr. Sharma is a provocative and captivating storyteller—a knack which has earned him innumerable acceptances by prestigious journals, and has made for him a career which serves as testament and hearty recommendation for the studied mind and capable pen which wrought the 20 pieces of prose populating his recent collection, Burn the Library.
Each piece in the collection is tight and readable, economically short, and ranging from uplifting to tragic to bittersweet. Most of the works are a few pages long; some micro flash pieces are as short as a paragraph or so in prose. The author possesses a gift for brevity and concision, appreciates the reader’s hectic schedule (much of the content centers around the modern experience’s habitually rushed pace, the brutal driving forces of industry and vanity, pride and conspicuous consumption perpetually perverting and polluting the contemporary everyman’s heart and mind), and seems determined to waste no time with superfluity and unnecessary gristle.
Dr. Sharma, in these stories, demonstrates himself as a true raconteur, compassionate observer and participant, uncompromising in his commitment to fostering kindness and understanding, always bold and resolute in his mission to challenge injustice, irrationality and flaws in cultures and individuals on scales from the deepest microcosm to a very macro viewpoint. He utilizes an astonishingly inventive and multidisciplinary set of literary lenses with which to accomplish this ambitious work. From period farce to kitchen sink melodrama, from magical realism and dystopian allegory to deft allusions, from deploying an encyclopedic knowledge of history, the arts and letters to invoking some of the most poignant characters and crisis scenes imaginable, nobility and ugliness present themselves interchangeably in the face of adversity, bringing one surprise after another. These stories shock, amaze, horrify and inspire the reader, but always keep them mesmerized on the edge of proverbial seats until the very last word is eagerly reached in each singular tale.
This book might provide one of the best introductions and showcases to Dr. Sharma’s extensive body of work, highlighting its many strengths and demonstrating his capacity and expertise from a variety of illuminating angles. The author exhibits a distinct literary sensibility which calls to mind the most polished showcases by renowned masters of short fiction, such as Melville, Faulkner and O’Henry. Burn the Library may be Dr. Sharma’s Piazza Tales, his New Orleans Sketches, his Four Million.
The reader will be hard-pressed to find more stunning examination, immediate and unnerving depictions of struggles within the contexts of affordable family formation, meaning in labor, self-actualization, immigration, neocolonialism, xenophobia, ageism and ableism, oppressions within and without, from Orwellian states but also more tangible and universally familiar, relatable evils of poverty and human cruelty, conservatism and prejudice. No less haunting than the story about a Brave New World-comparable revolutionary opera is a short, simple narrative involving a man begrudging his aged mother’s hand sanitizer. Humor and prescience are equally omnipresent and distinguishing strengths of this bard providing much-needed levity and palate-cleansing comic relief between harder hitting segments. An anecdote about a Gump-like figure’s profound charity and wisdom in the face of overriding callousness by the larger society and its ruling classes and leadership, akin to the parable about the mouths of babes and emperors’ wardrobes, will stay with the reader for the rest of their days. These are some of the most original and unforgettable tales I have had the privilege of enjoying.
Lovers of the classics will also be thrilled to discover choice cameos by Hemingway, Hans Christian Andersen, and other icons and forebears of literature who loom large in the author’s consciousness. The history and insights encoded within these stories are quite didactic and educational in and of themselves.
Dr. Sunil Sharma’s short fiction will be particularly relished by those who enjoy European and independent cinema, the work of auteurs like Godard and Vittorio De Sica, Wes Anderson and Noah Baumbach. His proficiency with dialogue and mise-en-scène furthermore gives one the impression that these pieces could serve as wonderful raw material for stage and screen adaptations. Burn the Library is a stunning collection of writing of the highest caliber I cannot encourage enough to explore carefully with undivided attention and curiosity.
Burn the Library and Other Fictions can be purchased here.