My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Length: 218 pages
Release date: 25 August 2016
In this collection, meet:
Guillaume, who gives up everything to protect his child; young Matthew, who stakes his life to save his home; and François, who makes the biggest sacrifice to rescue his grandson.
And François realized, for the first time since he had been coming to this pond, that he was happy to be alive in this world with whatever little he had.
Short stories are a uniquely challenging medium. They require fitting exposition, conflict and conclusion into much fewer words than would usually be allotted for all those plot elements, not to mention pesky details like character development and message without which a story feels lost. As a result, I’m highly impressed by what Indrajit Garai managed to do with three short stories in The Sacrifice, each with the depth to stand alone but together forming a coherent, heartfelt anthology on the lengths ordinary people go to protect what they love.
To its credit, this collection is remarkably professional for a self-published novel. The stories are clearly well-edited to be mechanically sound and boast an easily understood style. There are various Frenchisms in the prose which I gather follow from the author being a native French speaker, but they don’t impede understanding–for example, Garai uses the word ‘manifestation’ for ‘protest’ and orders words into distinctly French sentence structures. This isn’t a criticism so much as a quality I found fascinating, and regardless of language variations, the genuine storytelling shines through.
Everything goes wrong for the protagonists. The Sacrifice doesn’t tell pretty stories but rewarding ones, full of authentic struggles pulled from contemporary France. Guillaume of ‘The Move’ barely keeps his family farm afloat against competition from much lower prices overseas. Primary student Mathew of ‘The Listener’ fights a Forest Office determined to chop down a plot that includes his beloved tree. François, once an acclaimed literary author, gives up everything he has to make ends meet for his grandson after readers spurn his books for genre fiction. In each case, Garai takes a wide-reaching issue (globalisation, deforestation etc) and humanises it with familiar everyman characters.
In fact, The Sacrifice‘s characters are a little too everyman. The protagonists are zealously self-abnegating, the antagonists utterly hateful bureaucrats of the broken system. To be fair, that the characters fit into moulds of time-tested tropes doesn’t make them less powerful. More originality could have been spared for their personalities, but what exists is compelling.
I haven’t yet mentioned the special factor that, in my opinion, makes short stories truly stand out: the twist. The curtain pulled back at the eleventh hour that first comes like a bucket of cold water over the head, then makes you reevaluate the story you just read. The three stories of The Sacrifice have that twist, which they incorporate to varying degrees of effectiveness. For example, The Move‘s twist is quite predictable albeit satisfying, and The Listener‘s is a much needed repose after 70 pages of incessant darkness. However, the fact that they’re present at all and add to the nuance of the stories is worth appreciation to me.
The Sacrifice is a fine literary collection with an emphasis on the literary–it’s hard not to get the sense that Garai’s stories are the exact kind which would be lauded by the traditional, genre fiction-hating grandfather and grandson who serve as the eponymous story’s protagonists. That said, I wouldn’t warn away genre fiction readers at all: The Sacrifice is tied together with accessible, heartfelt writing, where the stories complement each other yet each tale weaves in the overarching theme in its own unique way.
*Thanks to Estelle Leboucher and the author for providing a review copy of this book! All opinions represented remain my own.*