Under the Shade of the Banyan Tree: Poems, Rants, and Short Stories by Simi K. Rao
Publishing Details: Written Dreams Publishing, November 2019
Back-of-the-Book Summary: Poems are fragments of life. In Simi K. Rao’s unique poetry collection for women, there are blissful moments; deep, invisible wounds; cries for help; declarations of defiance and philosophical observations. The poems and prose pieces compiling the collection are fragments of life elucidating the different phases of the human condition. Under the Shade of the Banyan Tree will leave readers wanting for more and have a deep impact on women of all ages.
Disclaimer: Unlike many of my other book reviews, this book was sent to me by Book Publicity Services in the hopes that I would write a review. However, I want to note that I am not being compensated for my review and all of the opinions expressed in this review are my genuine reactions to the book.
When I first received the email about reviewing Under the Shade of the Banyan Tree, I was absolutely psyched. Poems, rants, and short stories are literally three of my favorite things. Immediately, I was really looking forward to reading this book.
What I Liked:
My favorite aspect of this book are the short stories. They depict life as it really is: hugely important and painfully mundane, all at the same time. Rao manages to create tension in her stories the way tension works in the real world. Small thing after small thing just builds until our characters feel ready to snap.
This is especially evident in her last story, “A Cup of Chai.” Without spoiling anything, I’ll just say that the heart of the plot stays on the periphery at first, and Rao uses this to build tension in a really natural, subtle way. You can feel the main character’s discomfort and unease, but you can’t look directly at it. Not at first anyway. This felt so realistic and compelling to me.
When it comes to the poetry, there were a few lines that really stuck with me. As a new mom, the poem “Mother” really stuck out to me, especially the lines “the fragrance of innocence / lingers strong in your arms.” Making the child the strong one, making innocence itself strong rather than maturity and age, it’s such a flip and so accurately describes how it feels to be a mother sometimes.
In general, I just really loved how Rao shone a light on issues that specifically affect women throughout her entire book. As a writer, I know how hard this is, because you feel so much pressure to make your work as “relatable” to as many people as possible, including the men. By writing so strongly and specifically about women’s experiences, you may be isolating yourself from a large group of people who would prefer these issues be talked about sparingly or not at all. I think Rao made a brave, important choice to focus her work on women, and in many ways, this risk paid off.
What I Disliked:
I was so disappointed that there weren’t really any defined “rants” in this book of “poems, rants, and short stories.” It’s true that some of the poems and stories had elements of rage, but I was really looking forward to rants as their own separate genre. I feel that would be an amazing genre for women to embrace and popularize. But alas, this book did not deliver on that front.
As for the poetry, even though there were definitely some lines that I could get behind, many felt too straightforward, lacking depth, or sacrificed their meaning for the sake of matching the rhyme scheme. Plus, many poems had an “About the Poem” section, to explain elements of the poem. The beauty of poetry is that you don’t always understand the reality that inspired it, and yet you understand the soul behind whatever happened because the poem makes it so real. When you stop and explain, the poem loses all its magic. It felt like many of these poems didn’t need an explanation, but rather several more revisions to add some of that story into them to make the reader really feel the experience.
I also had a hard time with some of the short stories. First, many of them weren’t short stories at all, but were excerpts from Rao’s novel, Inconvenient Relations. Short stories are their own art form, not just snippets torn from larger works, so it was frustrating to see those excerpts included when we could have gotten more standalone stories (or rants!) The dialogue was also problematic. Dialogue is so hard to write, because we think differently than we speak. When stories don’t take this into account, the dialogue often sounds stilted and unrealistic.
You Might Like This Book If…
- …you usually find poetry confusing and would prefer poems that are more straightforward
- …you enjoy jumping from one genre to the next within the same book
- …you like reading about women’s experiences, even when they aren’t pretty