I would have never expected that an imaginary country could be so real. In Eleanor Bluestein’s Tea and Other Ayama Na Tales, readers are given a chance to peek very intimately at the lives of Ayama Na’s residents. These fictitious but very real characters are derived from Bluestein’s travels in Southeast Asia. Her collection of short stories depicting the hardships, inner turmoil and daily lives of those living in Ayama Na is quite captivating.
As I turned to each new short story (there are ten), I was surprised to find myself completely engrossed in each person’s life, and I felt as if I had journeyed with each person all of their lives. Although I was given only a glimpse of the characters’ lives, Bluestein was able to tell her readers so much about each character that it’s hard to escape the depth and intimacy of connection I felt with each new person in each new story.
While reading the stories, I felt as though I had transported to this imaginary country in Southeast Asia standing at the center of town: witnessing, hearing, and vicariously living through what each person had to endure, and each story allows the reader to learn something new as each character does.
I enjoyed the journey I took with each character and found myself empathizing with their cultural limitations, expectations, and liberations. The collection of short stories found in this book are a good reminder that even though someone might live in a place miles away, and although the physical circumstances they faced (living through a drought) was quite different, the inner hardships, challenges, emotions, joys, and milestones they had to go through, and the things that tugged at them are not too different than what I experienced.
[Tea and Other Ayama Na Tales was the winner of the G.S. Sharat Chandra Prize for Short Fiction selected by Marly Swick. 8asians.com is one of the stops on Bluestein’s Virtual Book Tour.]