Friday, September 22, 2023

Book Review: Chrysalis by Anuja Varghese

Title: Chrysalis
Author: Anuja Varghese
Publisher: House of Anansi Press
Publication Date: March 14, 2023

Released today, Chrysalis transports readers into the lives of strong, heartbreaking, and beautiful characters. There is a total of 15 stories in which Hamilton-based writer Anuja Varghese explore queerness, community, and family.

Story Titles

The Vetala’s Song
Dreams of Drowning Girls
In the Bone Fields
Cherry Blossom Fever
One, Two, Buckle My Shoe
Stories in the Language of the Fist
Night Zoo
Chitra (Or: A Meteor Hit the Mall and Chitra Danced in the Flames)
A Cure for Fear of Screaming
Midnight at the Oasis

Readers are first introduced to ‘Bhupati’ in the collection’s opening piece. This story sets the tone and narrative for the rest of the collection in several ways. First, is Varghese’s vivid writing. Throughout the book, but recognized right off the bat in ‘Bhupati’, Varghese’s writing style allows readers to feel the fire and storms being described, Maneesha’s unimpressed looks, and the changing of seasons. The second element worth pointing out? Readers will finish ‘Bhupati’ both itching for more and exhilarated to start the next story – this is a trend throughout Chrysalis.

But the important topics mentioned above, the vivid writing, and itch for more aren’t the only reasons worth adding Chrysalis to your bookshelf. Each story can be relatable to a variety of readers and types of people – whether you connect with a particular character, the location, or a feeling described, there is something for everyone to connect with and relate to.

The characters within any piece of literature can truly make or break it – whether those characters are relatable, inspiring, and/or interestingly frustrating. In Chrysalis, Varghese hits the mark in a unique way. In some capacity, each main character in every story demonstrates the importance of listening to oneself. This arguably is made most apparent in ‘Milk’ when we meet the main character Anju. In this story Anju is in tune with how other people’s actions and words make her feel. It’s hard to determine whether she does this knowingly and without fear, but Anju does an exceptional job at identifying her feelings and thoughts, and knowing what questions to ask and how to interpret people’s answers.

‘In the Bone Fields’ follow the same trend as that of other stories in Chrysalis but this story takes it one step further by also adding an element of mystery. Readers are immediately introduced to Devika and Revika – two twin sisters who live on a farm with their grandfather. A story about two young girls living on a farm is interesting in itself, but with each sentence readers learn more about the farm’s chilling backstory, unopened doors, and questionable ways of giving back.

Chrysalis is a terrific short story collection, centred around women of colour, that truly does have something for everyone. Some stories will tug at your heartstrings, other will leave you feeling angry for and about characters, and some will leave you with more of an understanding about the human condition.

All stories will, however, leave you wondering ‘why can’t this be longer?’ in the best way possible.

Editor’s Note: In keeping in line with our values, it is noted Beyond James was provided with a complimentary copy of Chrysalis.

Paige Petrovsky
Paige Petrovsky
Paige Petrovsky is a Hamilton-based storyteller. She is the owner of Preserve Your Words - a biography writing service, and a writer for several online publications. When she’s not working , you can find Paige blogging, reading, or often watching one of the Harry Potter movies.

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