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Review: Authors confront U.S. exile experience in 'Banthology'

Banthology
Banthology

Literature has the power to connect us across geographies, cultures, and languages, and the seven short stories collected in “Banthology” do just that. From the horrors of war to the challenges of beginning a new life abroad, each of these stories quickly (and sometimes playfully) confronts a different truth about the exile experience. And while the stories are powerful on their own, read together they form a moving chorus that is too great — and too beautiful, frankly — to be ignored.

First published by Comma Press in the UK, Banthology has recently been released in the United States through Deep Vellum Press. The themes of exile, travel, and restrictions on movement guide the collection, but the authors address these topics in various ways. In “Return Ticket” author Najwa Binshatwan takes an absurdist approach, as the main character is subjected to one preposterous travel requirement after another when she attempts to leave Schrodinger, a floating village that moves “through time and space, changing its orbit spontaneously as if it were the sun rising in one place and setting in another.”

Meanwhile author Zaher Omareen’s “The Beginner’s Guide to Smuggling” is a dark comedy of one refugee’s attempt to travel from Syria to Sweden by way of France. In “JuJube” by Ubah Cristina Ali Farah and “Storyteller” by Anoud, characters create false narratives to separate themselves from the past — with mixed results.

Perhaps most striking, for this reader, anyway, is the fascinating way each author manipulates form to increase the narrative’s effect: Anoud dips between third and first person; Farah incorporates an outside narrator; Omareen weaves in and out of settings and memories with the precision of a Parisian driver.

These graceful movements only increase the emotional punch of each narrative, leaving readers to wonder — and hope — that these authors will continue to find a home with U.S. publishers.

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