Thursday, August 7, 2014

Eyeless in Gaza

Eyeless in Gaza
by Victor Provenzano

It will not do
any more, blind Gaza,
where I’ve lived as a child
for 8 years, thin and thinning,
barely daring to drink

Eyeless Samson,
I have
to slice off
your hair:
its posse of asps.

Falling head with one chin,
wide as a whiteblue
chin strap,

And a foot in the shallows,
shooting the fish folk in a blue
film of salt, like fish
in a barrel.

I’d pray to Allah to spare you,

Yet, Samson, in agon,
I’m through.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Cherished comments by Roshni Rustomji-Kerns


Roshni apa's advice and praise!

This means a lot to me as I consider her my mentor-sister. Her kindness and encouragement not just towards me but many writers of South Asian diaspora who came after her needs to be acknowledged and celebrated. In her words:

    Your stories--First of all, thank you for the collection--the voices, the landscapes--physical and beyond. Remember what Leslie M. Silko said about stories?  Thank you--for proving her correct.
Secondly--the "critic speaks"--I found the spacing/pacing of how the stories appear in the collection disturbing--short, short and then longer and longer--Maybe that is my own inner ear--with all my musical training--my rhythm is always my own!  Drove some of my music teachers cray--especially dance teachers!

Great and wonderful surprise to find myself in the story in the very good company of our own and much beloved Ijazbhai and our favorite Mahmood--but the story itself needed an editor.  I know--because all my works need an editor.

The "critic" and aficionada of Moazzambhai's stories continues--Remember how I continue to be haunted by your story of the man with the transistor radio--and of the man who kissed the Holy Land?! Two other Moazzamnarratives have joined the company--"Jhura and Lali"--absolutely an amazingly moving gem--showing that a narrative/a story will go to the heart of a matter with much more power than any academic essay. Every time I read it, I cry--those sandals and  the face struggling to keep intact!

And then the Cafe le Whore--!  Absolutely different and yet--As you know, your Ammi was very dear to me--I have always held her blessings close to my heart--and yes, I knew how difficult it was--life with her--and how true a son you always were to her.  But even if I didn't know all this--the story is a powerful tribute to a mother-son and to the "lost" (to the "normal" world) people with whom we live every day--and yet we don't live with them.  Who are the real phantoms? 

Many years ago, as Chuck and I were driving through San Francisco, I saw some people begging (no euphemisms please!) on a road divider--I don't remember where it was.  All of a sudden, I saw an older man, tall, emaciated in a pyjama-kameez--the kind of brown/grey that men wear in the North West and I yelled "Abba"--he didn't resemble my father--but he was a man, I would have called "Abba" anywhere in the world --Chuck realized what had happened and that I needed to stop and go to the man and see what I could do--but when I turned back, he had completely disappeared--we couldn't see him/find him. I see your story, "Cafe le Whore" as a sad but sincere honor, a tribute to your Ammi, to the Abba who disappeared and all the human beings so many people wish would disappear.
As I said before--Moazzambhai--thank you.

Added comment:
As soon as you began talking about bringing the street(s) alive (all the locations in all the stories are alive), I knew that that was what has continued to haunt me.  The places, the events and the people can't be separated (remember Sara Suleri talking about that in Meatless Days?)--and you bring all three to life--and sorrow-compassion act like a thread that weaves them together. Bravo, Moazzambhai

Friday, April 4, 2014

A review in News International's Literati section by Saeed ur Rehman -

Cafe Le Whore: A strange story-world
It is difficult to decide which facts of an author’s life are relevant to a book review. A lot of reviewers have already made a big deal of the fact that Moazzam Sheikh is a Pakistani immigrant living in the USA. An equally important fact is that he is a trained librarian working at a public library in San Francisco. That makes the author, at least professionally, an ally of Borges, perhaps the most famous librarian in contemporary world literature. The alliance is not only professional. The affinity seems to be operating in the way both of them choose their themes and events and symbols they use in their fiction.
Sagheer Malal once described Borges as “a writer who produced literature for other writers.” This also seems to be the case with Moazzam Sheikh’s book Café Le Whore and Other Stories. The second collection of short stories by Sheikh is a book that breaks almost all the conventions of narration without properly falling into the readily available category of “magical realism.” A potpourri of irreverent, logic-defying, quirky and melancholic short stories, the book should have been . . .

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Cafe Le Whore makes the Small Press Distribution's Best Seller list for January/February 2014

Hearty thanks to friends, relatives, literature lovers, serious readers, neighbors, colleagues and perfect strangers to making this happen. Though making any list is not important to me, what is is being read and taken seriously by those whom I admire, both readers and writers. Thanks!

Here's the list:

SPD Fiction Bestsellers

January & February 2014

Monday, February 3, 2014

Anu Kumar reviews the works of Moazzam Sheikh

Moazzam Sheikh’s love affair with the short story

cafe le whoreThe cover of Cafe Le Whore and other Stories, Moazzam Sheikh’s new collection, his second one, appears to evoke the lead story. It is replete with bright haunting colours but still strikes an elusive tone, almost like the narrator’s repeated encounters with his dead mother in a city cafe and his later frustrated search for her, intertwined with his meetings with a down and out whore.
The story strikes in places a hysteric fun pitch, that makes it a racy read but then you come up short against a certain melancholy tone which is what this story leaves you with.
Moazzam_Letter_from_India_A short story for the most part has a lineage, not in just what it says but even in how it is written, and because an explanation for why I wrote a blurb for this intriguing, wonderful and hard to place collection must be convincing, it must begin with some of Moazzam Sheikh’s translated stories in A Letter from India (Penguin 2004).
Moazzam’s introduction for this earlier collection talked of his efforts searching for contemporary short stories from Pakistan and how surprisingly difficult it turned out to be. As these stories show, there is a rich heritage of stories, not merely in Punjabi and Urdu, but in other languages, other locales and by writers, largely forgotten but skilled craftsmen of the form. The collection included many voices unfamiliar to the Anglophone reader, and Moazzam’s journey was in quest of a literature, that existed in different languages and dialects from regions even marginalized, most of which had long remained hidden or was ignored; it was also an attempt to show the different narratives that are possible, even within the short story.
Perhaps the lead story, ‘A Letter from India’ is an apt title for the book too, for despite the divisive politics that created two countries of one, homes and hearts are always hard to divide; languages and a shared history will persist across . . .

Saturday, January 25, 2014

My reading at Green Apple Bookstore

My reading at the legendary Green Apple bookstore in the Inner Richmond neighborhood went really well. It was held in Granny Smith Room. It's a narrow, longish, cozy place, so with 20+ people it gave the feeling of a packed room. In attendance were mostly friends and neighbors, writers such as James Warner and Sarita Sarvate, translators such as Peter Frentzel, poet Cesar Love, and musicians Patrick O'Maley and Sean Barnett. My editor friend Robynne Weaver and close friends like Nikki Bengal, Ramon Calhoun, Ijaz Syed, Jim Torrens and Galina graced the occasion. My boy Amar and Galina's son Lev entertained themselves with books in the humor section downstairs, and my lovely wife Amna and our younger son Arman flitted in and out of the Granny Smith Room. At one point I spotted Arman in Ijaz Syed's lap.

I thanked those who had made the time to come and hear me read from my new collection Cafe Le Whore and Other Stories, silently missing those who couldn't come, many due to parental duties, a few due to non-parental commitments.
Before I began to read from the first story in the collection, I talked a little about the story since it was the first story I ever wrote, its humor, its light-hearteness, how it had acquired layers upon layers over the years, loss of early innocence of the tone, its debt to Salinger.
I finished the story by pointing out that despite its humor and mild sarcastic tone, the story does get a bit blue towards the end.
The next story I read was one of my favorites in the collection, Film Librarian. I explained to the audience due to my connection with libraries I had always wanted to write a story that took place inside and around this wonderful institution as an homage to those who give their best years to serving the cause of knowledge and imagination, not to forget their unconditional attention to those whom no one wants in our society, including, in some cases, their own families.
Film Librarian deals with a homeless old lady and a book she must possess all the time, a film book that has a movie still of an 'unidentified' female actor sitting at a bar with two known male actors. The old lady wants to know the name of the actress. The librarian has her work cut out for her, as the actress has disappeared without a trace. The librarian's own life is about to take a complicated turn, for better or worse as she finds herself caught between two lovers, one a filmmaker, the other a novelist.
Finally, I read from the title story Cafe Le Whore. I talked a little about the story and what triggered the imagination to produce it. Many readers have confided to me that Cafe Le Whore is my best work so far. Only time will tell. I am glad to have written it and I thank you for reading it. 
No reading is complete without the Q&A session. The questions included issues about projecting personal problems into the stories and coming out with solutions, attempting supernatural as in the case of Cafe Le Whore where the mother of the protagonist has come back from the dead as an out/miscast and is living in the grungy neighborhood of Tenderloin district of San Francisco.
There was a comment ( a subtle question) about how my writing has moved away from what is generally perceived as typical of South Asian writing in America.I explained that that was a conscious effort as I felt that many South Asian writers fall into the market trap and write what the agents/editors and general readership expect of their writing. I would like to belong to a group of South Asian writers who have made America their home, for better or worse, and would like to impose a lens on the issues which affect us and our children here, and of course the larger world.
It's always gratifying to see friends and readers lining up with your book in hand for an autograph and intimate conversation.
Before I walked out, I thanked the wonderful crew of the store, especially Ashley and Danielle. The world of the independent bookstores is a complicated one. The partnership between the independent writer, the independent publisher and the independent bookstore is not a natural one. The key factor is the readership which is still being influenced by the media. So when a person decides to support an independent bookstore and walks in to buy a book, it is usually to buy what has been reviewed in a major newspaper or an established source. Rarely do the local newspapers of a major city bother to review local, independent writers whose writing aims for something away from the highway 101.
So when an independent bookstore goes out of its way to promote a local writer, it is in the true spirit of what literature is all about, offering an alternative, encouraging people to hear a different voice.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Comments about Cafe Le Whore and Other Stories

Encouraging comments by Professor Karen Leonard (UC Irvine) about my book.

What a package of diverse pleasures Moazzam's new collection of short stories proves to be! Cafe Le Whore is the title (well, OK, if I didn't like that story best of all I might have expressed hesitation about the title), and the range of settings and characters is so impressive. From rural Punjab to urban Lahore and San Francisco, Moazzam writes masterfully of personalities and contexts; here and there one glimpses Moazzam himself, tantalizing and deftly presented. Sex in the present, sex in the past, women's lives, men's lives, memories recaptured or lost...these are his themes, his obsessions. Very rewarding reading.

Comment posted by Dr. Omar Ali at Amazon page of Cafe Le Whore:
It works because Moazzam is not interested in writing "Pakistani" fiction or "Western" fiction. Just stories, about people, in strange places, sometimes doing strange things, but always human, all too human . . . Funny too. Very funny at places.