, March 2021, March 2021

#Spring Love, #Pichal Pairi” by Usman T. Malik

Masquerade Season” by Pemi Aguda

El nido de libros” by Naomi Kritzer (Spanish translation, not reviewed)

Reviewed by Mike Bickerdike

#Spring Love, #Pichal Pairi” by Usman T. Malik tells of the relationship between a journalist and a ‘Pichal Pairi’ in Lahore. As background, in Pakistani mythology a Pichal Peri is a ghost or vampire, originating from the Abarimon people in the Hindukush, who’s feet faced backwards, and—fun fact—were first described by the Roman naturalist Pliny the Elder. In this tale, the Pichal Pairi is a well-meaning and pleasant woman, with whom the narrator falls in love (despite her backward-facing feet). The tale tells of their relationship amid modern Pakistani culture; they attend Aurat March (which take place across Pakistan each year in recognition of International Women’s day) and various cultural shows. Things take a turn for the worse when a viral pandemic breaks out. The story is well written and quite absorbing, though the fantasy elements here are subtle for the most part. The rather clumsy hashtag title and certain turns of phrase in the story suggest a greater aim for ‘relevancy’ than is necessary, as the story would have been fine without the ‘woke’ referencing.

Masquerade Season” by ’Pemi Aguda

Masquerade Season” is an enchanting and successful short fantasy, apparently set in Nigeria. As a boy walks home one day, he acquires three ‘masquerades’—tall spirits dressed in elaborate costumes of raffia and fine aso-oke fabric. They follow him, stay with him, and obey only his commands, dancing on request and impressing his friends. The boy’s mother, a seamstress who is trying to improve her business, wants to take some of the raffia and fabric from the masquerades to enhance dresses she is making for some famous clients. The story is interesting in several ways. The portrayal of Nigerian customs and traditions will be engaging and interesting to those readers who are not already familiar with Nigerian masquerades, aso-oke and yamarita. More importantly, there is a depth of meaning here that will resonate with many. The masquerades represent a part of traditional culture, their value stemming from intangibles, such as their extravagant and colourful appearance, their loyalty, and their representation of roots and traditions that instil a deep sense of place. The tale is therefore a parable of how we tend to discard or prune things of traditional value for a ‘fast buck’, or in the name of progress, and how this can cheapen our lives. This is most apparent to the boy, who has not yet lost his appreciation of life’s magic. A superior tale, recommended.

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