Swimmer Among the Stars — Kanishk Tharoor

Language, and all of its interactions, drives the short stories of this book. Whether it’s the distance between the past and the present, or the valley between one person’s life and another person’s nationality, or the ties between cultures, between conquerors and those they conquered, or between families, lives and stories.

But language here is not only the language of words: For an emperor it’s the language of mountains, plains, and steppes, for a sailor it’s the language of the ocean and the stars, for a man in a photograph, it’s the language of a smile, for a mahout, it’s the language of the pace of his elephant, and for a mysterious cook in the Upper East Side, it’s the language, of course, of taste, the only true way to communicate.

The stories flow seamlessly from ancient times to the current age to an indeterminate, maybe fantastic time and space, they change from futuristic sci-fi to fictional (and not-so-fictional) historiography to mythological reinterpretation. And they come with longing, with heartfelt statements that don’t have to be spoken, and with a subtle humor that free them from being too presumptuous and allow the reader to relate to the humanity of the characters, even if they are soldiers in a phalanx fighting a forgotten war thousands of years ago, thousands of kilometers away.

This is the kind of book you put down after each story because you don’t want to finish it too quickly, you want it to keep going and going.

(P.S.: I liked the first story in this book — also called “Simmer Among the Stars” — so much, that I made a Twitter bot out of it).