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Laterna Magika

by Ven Begamudré

Read Saskatchewan’s Ven Begamudré as an ethnic writer, and Laterna Magika repeats a familiar version of Canadian immigrants’ quandaries. Minorities, the eight stories suggest, dangle in an intellectual limbo between origin and end. While Begamudré’s characters are perplexed by their nostalgia and multiculturalism, this writing is too compelling to be dismissed as familiar.

Read him instead as an accomplished surrealist, and Begamudré echoes Salman Rushdie and others who, through satire and allegory, tinker with definitions of presence and absence, of first and last, as they build tall, even towering tales. Begamudré’s storytellers are cultural wanderers guided by the “magic lantern” of love. They venture restlessly not only between climates and continents, but also between realities, spectrums, planes, and forms of consciousness.

In “Indian Cookery,” a scientist explores “the sub-nuclear realm by bombarding deuterons” while visiting Vancouver; the next is told by the only survivor of nuclear war, who “was never a scientist,” but finds comfort in his ability to make memories and wishes – Chopin, grandchildren – corporeal. In “Out of Sync,” a widow enjoys out-of-this-world sex with an invisible man, who permeates her literally: “He filled my body. His flesh pushed up under the surface of my skin. Finally, when every particle of our bodies mingled, he laughed. The room filled with blinding, violet light.”

Born in South India, Begamudré moved to Canada as a six-year-old; Laterna Magika is his third book. Though his endings are often weakened by melodrama, the collection’s realms are often linked subtly through sensuality: when Begamudré allows language to reveal, instead of goading it to explain, the stories are aptly magical. The lovely title story is told by a father – son of a Czech and an Indian – to his daughter on the eve of her wedding. “There were times,” he says, “I simply could not resist finishing my parents’ stories.” It is hard, too, to resist entering those conjured by Begamudré.