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Words Without Borders is one of the inaugural Whiting Literary Magazine Prize winners!

April 2015

Changing Landscapes and Identities: New Tamil Writing

Image: Priyantha Udagedara, "Super Hybrid V,” Watercolor on Paper, 30x38cm, 2013

​This month we present Tamil writing. The Tamil literary tradition of associating images with landscapes informs the fiction and poetry here, as writers locate their considerations of alienation, exile, and diaspora, and address how identities and customs change with both figurative and literal terrain. In tales from two masters, Sundara Ramaswamy’s retired bureaucrat bristles at a young man’s perceived slight, and Ashokamitran evokes Borges, Emily Dickinson, and Ambrose Bierce. The old collides with the new as Sukumaran and Kutti Revathi investigate cross-caste marriages, Appudurai Muttalingam finds a traditional community torn apart by war, and Imayam shows the true chasm between a distant son and his plaintive mother. Che Guevara turns up in both Dhamayanti’s look at a charismatic revolutionary and Perundevi’s challenge to a divinity. Dilip Kumar’s sly fable depicts an unlikely duel. In poetry from Sri Lanka, Aazhiyaal’s transposition of myth reverberates with the horrors of the long ethnic war, Thirumavalavan writes from a jarring snowscape, Malathi Maitri considers the exile’s endless road, Sharmila Sayeed moves between Sri Lanka and India, and Krishangini confronts free-floating terror. We thank our guest editor, Lakshmi Holmström, as well as Subashree Krishnaswamy for her assistance with the texts. In our special feature, we showcase writing from Armenian women, selected and introduced by translator Nairi Hakhverdi, with new fiction from Shushan Avagyan, Ani Asatryan, Anna Davtyan, and Lilit Karapetyan.

Changing Landscapes and Identities: An Introduction to Tamil Writing

So changing landscapes are also about changing identities.

Ayya’s Bicycle

“Ayya won’t come to school on his bicycle anymore from now on, it seems, da.”


Two Minutes

Someone had left the corpse on the bicycle.

A Mansion with Many Rooms

“As if you have to ask that low-caste boy’s permission in order to see your own mother!”

The Mother and the Goddess of Night

A snowstorm flings down / a million, million needles.

A Mousy, Measly Tale

Though married, I practice celibacy very strictly.

What Did Sriraman Say?

The wretch was standing there / in a Che Guevara T-shirt and sunglasses—


Truth and Lies

The only thing that I lack is a single letter from you.



The midwife took the risk of dragging me out by my foot and there I was!



Along the highways / of a refugee’s life / snapshots of childhood memories / hang:

Revolution Nathan

I thought just speaking to Nathan was like participating in a revolution.


It was not possible to think of the youth’s transgression as accidental.

Three Dreams

Gardens caught up and drowning / in a vortex.


Fear depends on the mind; / the mind depends on experience.

Ploughing the Fields of Snow

You, Sun, are a wanderer in the arctic winter.


Book Reviews

Regina Ullman’s “The Country Road”

Reviewed by John Anspach

Regina Ullman, the Swiss-born contemporary of Herman Hesse, Thomas Mann, and Rainer Maria Rilke, has finally made her English-language debut with a collection of haunting and beautiful stories.

Máirtín Ó Cadhain’s “Dirty Dust”

Reviewed by Darragh Mcnicholas

Talk is not only the “principal character in this book,” as Titley writes in his translator’s note, it is the book.

Alejandro Zambra’s “My Documents”

Reviewed by Megha Majumdar

In his nostalgic yet critical gaze, the introduction of home computers in those years becomes a symbol for larger reconfigurations of solitude and companionship.

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