The Greatest Urdu Stories Ever Told by Muhammad Umar Menon

Book Name: The Greatest Urdu Stories Ever Told

Selected and Translated by Muhammad Umar Menon

Publisher: Aleph

Rating: 4.9/5

Book Blurb: Selected and translated by writer, editor and translator par excellence Muhammad Umar Memon, the twenty-five stories in this book represent the finest short fiction in Urdu literature.
In his Introduction, Memon traces the evolution of the Urdu short story from its origins in the work of writers like Munshi Premchand—‘the first professional short story writer in Urdu’—through the emergence of the Progressives in the late 1930s, whose writings were unabashedly political and underpinned their Marxist ideologies, to the post-Independence ‘Modernist’ era, and today’s generation of avant-garde, experimental writers of Urdu fiction.

Every story in the anthology illustrates one or the other facet of the form in the Urdu literary tradition. But even more than for their formal technique and inventiveness, these stories have been included because of their power and impact on the reader. Death and poverty face off in Premchand’s masterpiece ‘The Shroud’. In Khalida Asghar’s ‘The Wagon’, a mysterious redness begins to cloak the sunset in a village by the Ravi. Behind closed doors and cracks in the windows lies desire but also ‘a sense of queer foreboding’ in Naiyer Masud’s ‘Obscure Domains of Fear and Desire’. The tragedy and horror of Partition are brought to life by Saadat Hasan Manto’s lunatic (in ‘Toba Tek Singh’) and the eponymous heroine of Rajinder Singh Bedi’s ‘Laajwanti’. Despairing, violent, passionate, humorous, ironic and profound—the fiction in The Greatest Urdu Stories Ever Told will imprint itself indelibly on your mind.

Review: This is truly a masterpiece! Menon has collected some of the finest Urdu stories and presented them in this gem of a book. This is perhaps also one of the few works where I had to read and re-read the introduction carefully. The introduction is erudite and begins with the history of the well known Urdu practice of telling stories- the dastan.

This is truly a collectible’s item and should be on every bookshelf. One of my favourite writers, Manto gets featured. Obviously, no Urdu collection is complete without the master himself. Although, I prefer his other more shocking stories such as Khol Do– this features Toba Tek Singh which is extremely popular and recommended reading in many schools.

While Munshi Premchand, Manto and Sajid Rashid works are well known, there were also some stories which I hadn’t come across before. Urdu has produced some of the finest writers and its poetry is unparalleled. We need more such translations and this is perhaps one book that should have been thicker. A second volume is on the way I hope!

Nevertheless, I can identify with the dilemma faced by editors and translators- they have to leave out so much of what they wish to include!

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