Tea and Other Ayama Na Tales
When it comes selecting books to read, as in life, I often find myself treading the same well-worn territory over and over again. If left to my own devices, I tend to gravitate toward memoirs written by the famous and not-so-famous. I have drawn imaginary lines in my mind around certain genres of books that I assume are just not my cup of tea: science fiction, fantasy, and fictional tales of people who live in countries that don’t exist are some of the categories that I eschew. Give me reality, albeit an embellished or subjective reality that is experienced through the crafting and retelling of a personal story or journey.
This is actually relevant because I have found myself reviewing books for this blog that I wouldn’t typically be drawn to, which has exposed me to new authors and literary genres that have expanded my view of the world. Take, for example, Tea & other Ayama Na Tales. I agreed to participate in the virtual book tour for this novel knowing that it was a book of short stories about characters who live in the fictional land of Ayama Na. Casting aside my doubts, I picked up the book a few weeks ago and found myself quickly immersed in the tales of characters inhabiting a South Asian country that is trying to rebuild itself after a long drought and internal coup during which intellectuals and artists were rounded up and killed. In Anama Ya, graft and corruption are the norm and a countryside marked with landmines has left amputees begging in the city streets.
Bluestein introduces us to characters who are trying to navigate through a world that is quickly changing and find themselves in a delicate balancing act between an ancient past and the seductive modern world with all of its allure and promise. We meet Koriatt, the prosperous owner of a car dealership whose father, a country farmer, is in declining health. Koriatt prides himself on being a successful businessman who always does right by his customers and even entertains hopes of running for office one day. In a society that still holds respect and care for aging parents as an important tenet, Koriatt is an outlier.
Bluestein outlines her characters for us with humor and compassion. We meet Kenchoreeve Pranaranasam, Ayama Na In Depth’s most experienced tour guide who comes to realize that he has more in common than he realized with the Blanks, a vacationing couple who repeatedly test his Buddhist compassion and patience:
In fact Kenchoreeve did get it. Suddenly he understood what he’d never understood before. He understood that Elise loved her husband because if she didn’t love him, if she let herself hate him, her hatred would be a bottomless pit. And he understood that two years ago he—Kenchoreeve—had made the same choice with the people he guided. For who in this demon-infested life was truly worthy to be loved? And yet, because the alternative destroyed your soul, you had no other choice…
These are just some of the characters that populate the Ayama Na universe. I thoroughly enjoyed this book not only because of the grace and humanity of the characters, but for the lessons I learned about human nature just from reading these stories.