Wednesday 23 June 2021

Mona Dash, "Let Us Look Elsewhere"

Mona Dash is the author of  A Roll of the Dice : A Story of Loss, Love and Genetics (Linen Press, 2019) winner of the Eyelands International Book Awards for memoir, and the very recent, Let Us Look Elsewhere (Dahlia Books, June 2021). Her other published books are A Certain Way, Untamed Heart, and Dawn-drops. Her work has been listed in leading competitions such as Novel London 20, SI Leeds Literary award, Fish, Bath, Bristol, Leicester Writes and Asian Writer. She has been widely published in international journals and more than twenty anthologies. A graduate in Telecoms Engineering, she holds an MBA, and also a Masters in Creative Writing (with distinction). She works  in a global tech company and lives in London.

About Let Us Look Elsewhere, by Mona Dash

A young boy refuses to ferry his boat. A woman orders a British accent to fit in. A lover sends messages into the void.  

Disconnection and desire go hand in hand in this powerful collection.  From the bustling streets of Mumbai to the glitz and glamour of Vegas, and the everyday streets of London, these beautifully observed stories explore human frailties and triumph.

This is a collection of fourteen short stories, many of which were listed in various short story competitions and an earlier version of the entire collection was also shortlisted in the SI Leeds literary award. 

The settings are in turn exotic, remote and also familiar; and whether it is in the Arctic region, or a little village in Odisha, there are two themes stitching the stories. Firstly, multiple and diverse identities, the travesty of belonging and feeling like an outsider: many of the stories explore situational belonging and identity, such as 'Natural Accents,' 'Golems of Prague,' 'Temple Cleaner,' 'The Sense of Skin,' 'Boatboy.' Though 'Boatboy' is different, as it is the only one based on a real incident in history.

Desire, passion, sensuality, especially of women: this is the second theme running through the collection. The women in the stories are trying to find themselves, often through love, intimacy; they are sometimes rebelling against the spaces they have been forced into. This exploration into the complexity of a woman’s mind and her often ambiguous secret world is explored through the stories like 'Lovers in a Room,' 'Secrets,' 'Watching the Aurora,' 'Inside the City,' 'Formations,' 'Fitted Lids,' 'That which is unreal,' 'Why does the cricket sing?'

You can read more about Let Us Look Elsewhere on the publisher's website here. Below, you can read a sample from the collection.

From Let Us Look Elsewhere

From 'The Sense of Skin' 

I watched Ana sleep, her mouth open, the butterfly tattoo on her shoulder poised to fly. Her skin, lavender soapscented, paper-dry, dolphin-cold. I spooned her and she continued sleeping. 

The morning had been busy, with several animals to do. Foxes, rabbits, minks; tool sharpened, inserted into the skin like a needle, taken off like a sock, skin discarded like clothes. We’d learnt from our fathers and uncles who worked on the farm and came home in the evenings, their breath like ice, to the crackling fire in the living room. They brought back pelt that was slightly damaged and unfit to be sold, so we always had warm rugs, furs on our mothers’ and aunts’ shoulders. They brought back cold cuts of rabbit to pickle or eat with coarse dark rye bread. Here in Ostrobothnia, the scent of skin was always alive. 

At home, in the evening I filleted the fish, scales collecting on the blade, while Ana watched me, lips parted, teeth uneven like small pebbles. Ana loves animals, she’s the kind who walks other people’s dogs, rehomes straggly cats and lets spiders spin webs in dark corners of the house. 

‘Do you skin your animals alive?’ she asked, her bright green eyes trying to hide her disgust. It wasn’t the first time she had questioned, or the first time I’d explained.

‘We look after our animals. They die peacefully before we skin. Besides, live animals fight back and can hurt with sharp 6 claws, their fur could get damaged.’ 

‘Over-fed, then slaughtered and skinned. Nice.’ 

‘Have you been talking to the Oikeutta eläimille again?’ 

‘I don’t need to talk to animal activists. Don’t you think I know? Those Arctic foxes in small cages. You ever seen the fear on their faces?’

‘It’s not that bad at all.’ I was sure she had been talking to someone.

‘I went for a walk the other day, over to your cousin’s side of the farm. The poor foxes, they don’t even howl anymore. Scared to silence. They can smell the scent of dying skin.’ 

‘I can take you for a tour if you want. Please don’t walk around like that on your own.’ She worried me for an instant, I needed to be careful about what she saw.

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