All The Names They Used For God is a motley of tales that has everything from tragedy to mythology to science to human despair tied together to discuss the known and the unknown in this world. It is a collection of short stories, quite eclectic in nature and not one bit preachy or sermon-like to be honest. I have to make this clarification because that is the impression the name would give you. But the stories are more human than religious and a nice mix of subjects and themes.
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The titular story, “All The Names For God” is also my favourite story in the collection. It is raw, heartfelt, very much real even after all the magically realism woven into it. It is a story of 2 girls kidnapped by Boko Haram to serve ( or slave ) as wives for their soldiers. Suffering abuse, they grow through the years, all the while picking up skills of hypnotism and mind control to subdue their husbands, may be even a bit of witchcraft as hinted in the book, as a shard of relief in their perpetually doomed existence. To be brutally honest, it is that impossibility of blending back into their old lives more than the Boko Haram backdrop of the story that broke my heart. They sometimes sneak out to their old worlds for a night or two, and a couple of times even meet their parents and siblings. But in spite of the seemingly kind welcome they receive, and real welcome I mean, it is not as if their parents don’t want want them, the inevitability of their return hangs low like a shroud, suffocating them and the reader alike. Heart wrenching but beautifully narrated story.
“Robert Greenman and The Mermaid” reminded me strongly and frequently of the short story called the “The Whale That Fell In Love With A Submarine” by Akiyuki Nosaka, more notably known for his “Grave of the Fireflies”. Similar story telling styles and the haunting beauty of hypnotic, and eventually disappointing love stories that culminate in inevitable heartbreak, makes Robert Greenman’s story my second favourite in the book. And even if I liked Nosaka’s “The Whale That Fell In Love With A Submarine” much much more ( cannot recommend it to you enough!!! Please read it if you can find it ), Anjali Sachdeva has a wonderful job with this one.
My next favourite from the collection is “Pleiades”, a tale of septuplets born to a geneticist couple whose firm belief in science is their religion. One fertilised egg split into seven pieces made seven sisters, all identical. While they did cause a massive sensation and string ripples of suspicion at birth, their life always had that tinge of sorrow hovering on them as they start dying one by on at various stages of life. Borrowed heavily from the Greek legend of Seven Daughters of the titan Artemis and the sea nymph Pleione, the story is intriguing and dark all at the same time. It makes us question if stretching the limits and breaking more barriers of science, one after the other without longer thought is even worth it.
“The World by Night” is the story of Sadie, orphaned at 16 and by all means, dealt a rough hand by fate at pretty much every turn of her life. She lives by herself in a house and suffers from sensitivity to light ( from the hints in the book, she seems to suffer from albinism ) because of which she spends almost all her day in the house and does her chores by night. Her husband is away a lot, so she is mostly by herself for days and on one such day, she discovers a cave and is mysteriously attracted to it. She comes back to it again and again and the time she spends there takes the reader through myriad emotions of how it feels to be isolated, discriminated on the basis of a condition that one can do nothing about and the crippling loneliness it brings. “The Glass Lung” is about a man how injures himself in a freak accident at the steel factory he works at. An experiment to fuse steel and glass to create a new ultra strong material goes horribly wrong and he ends up with shards and really fine powder of glass in his lungs, making breathing deeply and freely impossible for the rest of his life. Since this renders him unwell and unable to ever work again, he becomes home bound and ever more so dependent on his young daughter for survival and livelihood. But then fate takes him on an expedition to the desert land in Egypt and things take a surprising turn. “Logging Lake” feels so eerily familiar to the ‘Tinder Dates gone horribly, horribly wrong’ kind of tales we read in newspapers and on social media. Except that the man breaks up with his steady girlfriend who has a taste for adventure a bit too much for him to join in cheerfully and ends up in an even more toxic relationship with another woman who scars him for life. I really don’t know what it was supposed to mean and while I found the story complete and not abruptly ending, I have no idea what takeaway the reader is supposed to come out with at the end. A bit weird for me, sorry.
“Killer of Kings” is a beautiful imagination ( I think ) of how the last days of renowned poet John Milton whose eyesight is known to have been steadily declining, rumoured to be so because of untreated glaucoma. The story is a series of conversations between Milton and and the angel who transcribes for him in his illness. It is peppered with, again imagined I assume, John’s conversations with Galileo on his trip to Italy. I loved the story, it makes you feel that desperation that one feels when disability robs you of the chance to share with the world what you can contribute to a better tomorrow. Or may be, just contribute something, anything I guess. “Anything You Might Want” is about a young girl who runs away from her home with her boyfriend to escape her overbearing & controlling father, but the love doesn’t turn out to be all bed of roses. Not blown away but it is lovely one about the young lady finding her footing again. “Manus” is about alien invasion where the aliens force humans to give up their hands to be replaced by mechanised implants that do the job of hands. The idea I am guessing is to take away that sense of feeling and touching things, that human trait of feeling, I guess and I almost enjoyed the story but I will admit it left be a bit bewildered at the end.
Overall, an eclectic mix of short stories, I rate it 3.5 stars out of 5. Recommended for a time when you are looking to break out of a genre you like but feel stuck in a rut.