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category: Fiction
published: Apr 1996
publisher: Goose Lane Editions

English Lessons and Other Stories

by Shauna Singh Baldwin

tagged: short stories (single author), literary

Shauna Singh Baldwin's passionate stories dramatize the lives of Indian women from 1919 to today, from India to Canada to the US. Through the eyes of these women adjusting to change, we see a world whose familiar rhythms mask dissonance and discordance. More overt is the ongoing struggle for the Sikh women in these stories to keep their identity and assert it — the massacres of Partition and 1984 are never far away. More subtle is the cost of integration into the new world, how colonialism survives in the minds of the colonized, and how these women confront the twin fear of freedom and fear of "the other." Moving from the inner sanctums of the family to the world of the office, subway and university, Baldwin lingers sensuously on the mundane surface of her characters' lives: the jewel-like colours of turbans in the wash water, the shimmering bowls of cashews and almonds on a table, the worn magic of an abandoned house in Shimla. Slowly, almost innocuously, Baldwin reveals the unseen country her characters inhabit, only to allow this world to withdraw and emerge once again. However modern or westernized they might be, Baldwin's characters are always outsiders who inhabit silence and learn to use it, sometimes as a refuge, sometimes as a weapon. Some remain prisoners of silence, choking on their own knowledge. Some use silence as a weapon against their oppressors. Others harness its power to seize their freedom. In "Jassie," an aging, dying Indian grandmother, a foreigner in her adopted country, helps another woman come to terms with death; in "A Pair of Ears," a servant-woman wreaks revenge on an old woman's feckless son; in "Nothing Must Spoil this Visit," western and eastern women find unexpected candour and passion.

About the Author

Shauna Singh Baldwin’s first novel, What the Body Remembers, was published in 1999 by Knopf Canada, Transworld UK, Doubleday USA, and (as an audiobook) by Goose Lane Editions. It received the 2000 Commonwealth Writer's Prize for Best Book (Canada-Caribbean region) and has been translated into fourteen languages. Her second novel The Tiger Claw was a finalist for Canada's Giller Prize 2004. Shauna is the author of English Lessons and Other Stories and coauthor of A Foreign Visitor’s Survival Guide to America. Her awards include the 1995 Writer’s Union of Canada Award for short prose and the 1997 Canadian Literary Award. English Lessons received the 1996 Friends of American Writers Award.

A former radio producer and ecommerce consultant, her fiction and poems are widely published in literary magazines and anthologies in the US, Canada, and India. She has served on several juries and teaches short courses in creative writing. Shauna holds an MBA from Marquette University and an MFA from the University of British Columbia. We Are Not in Pakistan: Stories was published by Goose Lane Editions in 2007. Shauna’s third novel, The Selector of Souls, was published by Knopf Canada in September 2012. Reviews, reading schedule, and interviews at:

  • Winner, Friends of American Writers Book Award

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