Seventeen Tomatoes: Tales from Kashmir
Howells, Coral Ann, British Journal of Canadian Studies
Jaspreet Singh, Seventeen Tomatoes: Tales from Kashmir (Montreal: Véhicule Press, 2004), 154 pp. Paper. $16.95. ISBN 1-5506-5188-9.
This luminous collection of fourteen linked stories is a perfect example of the new transnational trend in contemporary English Canadian fiction. So many writers are looking in different directions towards other countries and other histories outside Canada that they are establishing new parameters for a national literature in a globalised context. Singh's stories are set in modern Kashmir, where he grew up before emigrating to Canada in 1991, and apart from thanking his publisher for introducing his work to Canadian readers, there is no mention of his new country, for this is a fictionalised memoir of Kashmir as a dreamed-of place that fades on waking. To call it immigrant fiction is to register a profound shift from that traditional category with its emphasis on outsiderliness and exile, for this book, while still asserting its writer's cultural difference, assumes a responsibility to tell stories of his place of origin and of the individuals who lived there. Kashmir may sound exotic, but that image is balanced by realistic depictions of military camps, religious tensions and unending violence: 'Kashmir was neither Pakistan, nor India. Kashmir was War' (p. 53).
The collection is loosely structured around incidents in the lives of two Sikh boys, Adi and Arjun, the sons of Indian army officers stationed in Kashmir, and a pattern of interwoven lives develops with the same characters recurring in this doubled version of a Bildungsroman. Singh uses Kashmir as a theatrical space, framed by fabulous dimensions of snowy mountains and glaciers where engineers and mystics try to compute the distance between earth and heaven in the first and last stories, or as a mythical place of walled gardens. …