Reviews of The Real Estate of Things and Shopping for Sabzi
Shopping for Sabzi” is a debut collection of short stories by Nitin Deckha who was born in England, raised in Canada and educated in the United States. His transnational experiences are reflected in the dozen stories in this collection. Many of his South Asian characters are transnational subjects who are negotiating multiple cultural and social identities. His non-South Asian characters are cosmopolitan and urban. The title of the collection (“sabzi” refers to vegetables in Hindi) comes from the author’s mother-in-law who compared her daughter’s search for a mate as “shopping for sabzi.” But women in South Asia take their sabzi shopping seriously—each vegetable has to be examined, poked, and prodded and the price haggled with the seller. The stories in this collection focus on a variety of characters who are in search of mates—some are negotiating cross cultural relationships, others are pondering what might have been, and still others are bumbling along.
In “Spick and Span” a nearly 30 year old Gujarati social worker helps her aunt organize a marriage convention in New Jersey while exploring her own different expectations from married life. In “Cheese Guru Kiss”, a happily married father of a teenage son suddenly comes face to face with an old girl friend who is now a celebrity chef and briefly flirts with his past, and in “Ketchup” a father with a toddler remembers his first serious relationship with an older woman while traveling back home to reunite with his wife. These stories are charming and slightly romantic as the protagonist eventually comes “home” happily to his/her choices. Some other stories are surprisingly edgy. In “Piece of Cake” a young photographer journeys to his past to explore his first girl friend’s bouts of eating disorder while his current girlfriend wishes to aestheticize and commodify the sick woman’s relationship with food. In “Will Model for Food”, an English journalist explores the politics of urban redevelopment and homelessness and in “1 900 Hey Baby”, the writer examines the world of phone dating services. A couple of stories examine South Asian women who reinvent themselves in widowhood startling their families and friends by their surprising choices.
Deckha’s stories are impressive for their range of topics and for the variety of characters. Some of the stories are fairly conventional while a few reveal an edginess that is promising. He steers clear of South Asian stereotypes especially given that his topic is mate-hunting—a topic that is so prevalent in South Asian fiction that it is clichéd. As is common with debut collections, there is some unevenness in quality and a tentativeness to voice, but if Deckha produces more stories like “1 900 Hey Baby” and “Ketchup”, his will be a writing career worth following.
Nalini Iyer, June 16, 2010, International Examiner
"In The Real Estate of Things, fifty-something Shaku Sehgal wants to make some changes to her life. She follows her best friend, Neelam, into the exciting world of real estate, her dream being to become the premier realtor of West York City. This position is currently owned by Ruth Leslie. Shaku must battle against her in a redevelopment contest for a local derelict site, along with the other realtors.
An inspiring book that focuses on the meaning of success, love and friendship. Shaku is an intriguing protagonist, and the world of realtors is a lot more engaging than I thought it would be. The writing is great, and the book is fast-paced without rushing. I also liked Chakra Sahib – an intriguing person who advocates a whole new way of life.
Recommended to anyone who enjoys literary fiction."
Majanka Verstraete, Feb 21, 2016,
A collection of humorous, well crafted short
stories, Shopping for Sabzi embodies many of
the concerns and questions young South
Asians face in the Western world. Each story
has a subtle leitmotif - an idea or image that
strings the narrative together, and makes the
stories more nuanced and fascinating to read.
“Enterprising Widow” tells the story of a
young South Asian man dating outside his
culture, and how his girlfriend and his mother
develop a friendship. “Ketchup” enters the
mindset of a young father, and his memories
of being a rebel and activist in university.
“Spick and Span” is a hilarious look at the
dating scene in the South Asian community,
from the perspective of a single South Asian
Deckha’s strength lies in his ability to describe
images with precision and detail. For
example, “Kamala was near statuesque in a
cream and soft pink sari, save for her slightly
protruding caramel belly.” Deckha weaves
humor and sarcasm in the text, and his characters
are people we recognize in our own
lives: the young activist fighting for community
projects, the friendly waitress with bigger
dreams, the self conscious young man
who fears his own mother, the newly arrived
Sheniz Janmohamed, City Masala January 2009
Though shopping for sabzi is an accusation levelled at young people in the title story, Deckha believes the habit is not limited to the young and the restless. "I think shopping for sabzi is something we're all doing. I think it's part of the zeitgeist. We're all reinventing ourselves to get what we want," he explains.
Rich in sarcasm and dryly humorous, Deckha's collection of short stories offers a series of relatively light hearted glimpses into the middle-class struggle for personal fulfilment. Many of the tales surround the privileged, but often wayward, lives of thirty somethings as they search for success in its many forms. Whether they are struggling to advance their careers to greater heights, find love or simply get laid, the occasionally selfish characters are beset by a feeling of dissatisfaction with their current situation, dogged by a persistent feeling of doubt, or a desire for something better.
However, these are not stories of heavy personal crises and broken dreams, and the subject matter never gets too dark. The characters' inner struggles are instead fleshed out from simple events in their lives. Sometimes these struggles seem banal, but Deckha has a way of writing about these mundane situations that creates the feeling you are looking at a poignant snapshot of life in motion.
The stories mostly follow the lives of young, white-collar South Asians, but exploration of their ethnic identity is done sparingly, or left out entirely. "Their South Asian identity is a part of it, but that is sort of the anchor rather than the foundation," explains Deckha. "And their stories are maybe not universal, but certainly cross-cultural. I think it reflects an emerging time in Canadian literature where writers are more comfortable venturing beyond the familiar motifs."
Deckha drew his characters from his experiences doing field work in London and from his brief stint in advertising in New York. This is his first book, but he is currently working on a novel that he says will expand on the themes he established in Shopping for Sabzi.
- Steve Magusiak, Fast Forward Weekly, former Calgary newsmagazine
In Shopping for Sabzi, the debut collection of short stories by Nitin Deckha, the characters are anxious and eager to please not only themselves but others as well. In “Enterprising Widow,” Kamala, Harish’s Indian widowed mother, explains how she does not want to “be like one of those grandmothers on the plane, staring at those stupid movies . . . your father is dead, yes, it’s true . . . his life ended, but not mine. Somehow everyone seems to forget that.” These characters are rich with dialogue, and the readers get a sense of that eagerness to please. The Indian widow, who struggles with Indian social expectations, returns in “Who Auntie Hai Yahan” when Kusum, a widow, takes up Bollywood dance lessons. These stories about widowed Indian women are in contrast to stories about the complications and cultural struggles of young professional South Asians living in North America. In “Shopping for Sabzi,” Pushpa, a South Asian woman, explains to her one-night stand Amol, “We’re both shopping for sabzi. It’s a phrase my dad uses to talk about our generation. We’re always on the hunt for the next great guy . . . trying them out for size, seeing how they measure up against the previous one, and if they don’t we them like a bruised tomato.” These “shoppers” are searching not only for love but for approval as well. Deckha’s use of quick plot lines, vague connections, and lack of detail can leave the reader bewildered. In the stories “Will Model for Food” and “Diva Desperada,” the narrative arc is fractured while the many typos and strange use of idioms break the narrative flow. In “Cheese Guru Kiss” and “Edmund Square, N1,” old flames come back to haunt and taunt the main characters and the conclusions are satisfying.
Sharanpal Ruprai, Canadian Literature, 207 (Winter 2010). http://canlit.legacy.arts.ubc.ca/reviews/it_is_all_in_the_details