I had never heard of Sakhalin Islands until I received the email from Ajay Kamalakaran, the author of Globetrotting for Love & Other Stories from Sakhalin Island, these short stories based in the islands. So, there is a lot that I learned about the Russia Far East from these stories apart from enjoying the stories. I learned that Anton Chekov had lived in these islands for 3 months in the 1890s, but not many authors have visited and written about Sakhalin Islands.
Ajay Kamalakaran was also kind enough to do a guest post for IndiTales – Sakhalin Island – Where Russia meets Japan.
As a traveler, my interest in stories clearly lays in knowing this far end of land that not many know of. The stories by Ajay Kamalakaran took me to a decade on the Sakhalin island when it suddenly saw an oil boom, bringing the world to this remote corner. People and technologies from around the world came and changed the island, its people, and their aspirations forever. The visitors went back after their purpose was met, but the island had changed.
Author Ajay Kamalakaran was also posted in Sakhalin Islands as a journalist. I assume this would have given him ample windows to peep into the soul of Sakhalin. His stories take you to a variety of people on the islands. There are stories of natives who are dealing with the newcomers on the island and who do not know the basic rules of the land. There are stories of sudden access to people and property that changed things. And there are stories of migrants living in the island – some recent migrants and others for generations. Each of them has their own struggles to deal with.
The recent migrants from the west get lost in the way things are done and the law operates. The old-time migrants deal with the identity issues. I loved the story of the Korean boy who loses everything in Sakhalin and migrates to South Korea thinking he will find his roots there only to realize Sakhalin is home and return. It is probably the story of every migrant – where do we belong? Some of us can not figure it out all our lives.
The first story ‘The Cleaning Lady’ is a great opener. Not only it is witty and humorous, it also sets the tone for the rest of the stories. Elderly ladies, I tell you are always a goldmine for stories. However, my favorite story is ‘April’ where, in a monotone, the author takes you through the nuanced details of the weather and its meanderings on the Sakhalin Islands. This story brings out the sensitive writer in Ajay Kamalakaran. I hope he builds on that story into something bigger. Then, there are the usual stories of love and lust.
Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk – the capital of Sakhalin comes alive in the narrative. You literally move around the city and its surroundings with the characters. All through the stories you stay strongly rooted in Sakhalin, even when the characters travel out once in a while. It is literally a virtual tour of the place.
Buy Globetrotting for Love and Other Stories by Ajay Kamalakaran from Amazon
The language of the stories is simple. It is sprinkled with Russian words here and there that lends it an additional air of authenticity. You can learn the names of few Russian dishes, some customs, and some costumes if you want. There is only one story where I felt the loop did not close, it began somewhere and ended somewhere. All other stories flow smoothly.
Overall Globetrotting for Love & Other Stories from Sakhalin Island are entertaining, thought-provoking in a way slice of life stories are, educating about the corner of the earth most of us have not visited and enjoyable. There is a reflection on how the sudden wealth and availability of resources changes lives for many inadvertently. The sudden influx of people from around the world can irreversibly change the place – good or bad only time will tell.
Go, read Globetrotting for Love & Other Stories from Sakhalin Island.
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