Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Under the Banyan Tree & Other Stories by R. K. Narayan

R. K. Narayan, who died in 2001 at the age of 94, was a master of the short story. Under the Banyan Tree & Other Stories is a good sample of his work, including many stories of only five or six pages. Narayan could tell a memorable tale quickly, unlike the story teller in the title piece who took ten evenings each month to tell a long story to villagers outside a temple under a banyan tree. Some of these stories could easily be read on an afternoon break.

I enjoyed this collection of twenty-eight stories set in the cities and villages of India. Most of them take place in the twentieth century, but life in some villages still reflects old ways. All the stories deal with justice and injustice in some way, and many have ironic twists in the plot. Sanctimonious bachelors learn to forgive the people who irk them. Servants play tricks on masters. Superstitions guide people into disastrous decisions. Readers are never sure what will happen next.

Under the Banyan Tree is out of print in the United States, but numerous public and academic libraries still have copies. Otherwise, you can buy new or used copies through internet book sellers or pick up a copy next time you are in England.

Narayan, R. K. Under the Banyan Tree & Other Stories. New York: Viking, 1985. ISBN 0670804525

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