A Small Sac­ri­fice for an Enor­mous Hap­pi­ness: Stories

  • Review
By – April 24, 2023

Jai Chakrabarti’s debut sto­ry col­lec­tion, A Small Sac­ri­fice for an Enor­mous Hap­pi­ness, cen­ters on fam­i­lies both lost and found. The best sto­ries in the col­lec­tion are intri­cate­ly craft­ed, nuanced explo­rations of child-rear­ing through the lens­es of class, race, and priv­i­lege. In the title sto­ry, Nikhil wish­es to raise a child with his clos­et­ed lover, but such a thing is impos­si­ble in India in the 1980s. In The Import,” Raj and his wife, Bethany, hire Rupa, a young woman from India, to take care of their son, only to dis­cov­er that she has left her own young daugh­ter behind. In The Prodi­gal Son,” Jon­ah, a New York­er, vis­its his musi­cal men­tor in India for the last time and makes a promise he can’t keep. And in The For­tune of Oth­ers,” Kab­u­li­wal­lah, an Afghan refugee, becomes a father fig­ure to a young boy and then is forced to make a dif­fi­cult deci­sion when a wealthy Amer­i­can offers to adopt the child. 

Par­tic­u­lar­ly notable is the sto­ry Search­ing for Eli­jah,” which fol­lows Mali­ni, an Indi­an wid­ow and sin­gle moth­er who falls in love with a Jew­ish man, Stephen. Stephen’s moth­er wants Mali­ni to con­vert to Judaism and for her son to have a bar mitz­vah. The sto­ry nav­i­gates the ten­sions between Mali­ni and her fiancé’s fam­i­ly with del­i­ca­cy and grace. Anoth­er story,“Mendel’s Wall,” fol­lows a feud between a hus­band and wife. It begins with the hus­band build­ing a bound­ary of gyp­sum and sheetrock” to divide the apart­ment in two, one half for him­self and the oth­er for his wife. Despite its won­der­ful premise, this sto­ry falls short because of its schmaltzy lan­guage (Shab­bos, cholent, chachkis). 

Over­all, the sto­ries are incred­i­bly mov­ing and mem­o­rable. The prose is lush and immer­sive, and the pac­ing, mas­ter­ful. Chakrabar­ti is espe­cial­ly adept at con­jur­ing dis­tinct places with vivid detail: there’s a street in Kolkata where hyacinth braiders tied flo­ral knots” and rum sell­ers hauled bags of rice,” where an orphan­age with peel­ing paint sees sheets hang­ing off cribs” and the dis­cord of bro­ken toy parts.” The end­ings of many of the sto­ries avoid neat res­o­lu­tion, allow­ing space for the reader’s imag­i­na­tion. For exam­ple, in Lilavati’s Fire,” Aparna builds an air­plane in her garage using dia­grams made by the daugh­ter of a twelfth-cen­tu­ry Indi­an math­e­mati­cian. The air­plane is described in metic­u­lous detail: it boasts a Loren­za twin-speed engine, a vin­tage wood pro­peller, an alu­minum frame” and four-foot wings. The read­er is wait­ing for the air­plane to take off, but it nev­er does. Still, it is clear that Aparna has under­gone a pro­found trans­for­ma­tion on her jour­ney to independence. 

This is a mar­velous sto­ry col­lec­tion that I’ll be think­ing about for a long time.

Omer Fried­lan­der was born in Jerusalem in 1994 and grew up in Tel Aviv. He is the author of the short sto­ry col­lec­tion The Man Who Sold Air in the Holy Land, win­ner of the Asso­ci­a­tion of Jew­ish Libraries Fic­tion Award and a final­ist for the Wingate Prize. The book was cho­sen as an Amer­i­can Library Asso­ci­a­tion Sophie Brody Medal Hon­or Book for out­stand­ing achieve­ment in Jew­ish Lit­er­a­ture and longlist­ed for the Sto­ry Prize. Omer has a BA in Eng­lish Lit­er­a­ture from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Cam­bridge and an MFA from Boston Uni­ver­si­ty, where he was sup­port­ed by the Saul Bel­low Fel­low­ship. He was a Star­works Fel­low in Fic­tion at New York Uni­ver­si­ty. His col­lec­tion has been trans­lat­ed into sev­er­al lan­guages, includ­ing Turk­ish, Dutch, and Ital­ian. His writ­ing has been sup­port­ed by the Bread Loaf Fel­low­ship and Ver­mont Stu­dio Cen­ter Fel­low­ship. He cur­rent­ly lives in New York City and teach­es cre­ative writ­ing at Colum­bia University.

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