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Monday, June 2, 2008

Hyphenated Life

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  “To hyphenate or not to hyphenate” is a question that sometimes perplexes even the most seasoned writer or editor. What’s more, the use of hyphens to express a dual identity has been a source of contention for nearly a century. Those who oppose hyphenated ethnic terms, whether Latin-American or British-Pakistani, claim they are divisive. Those in favor believe they’re the only way to give equal credence to one’s ancestral past and immediate present.

  As far as Montreal-born, Milwaukee-based Indian writer Shauna Singh Baldwin is concerned, the more hyphenated you are, the better. She’s always bridled at terms that seek to place a geographical limit on her breadth of experience and range of expression. Even the name of her new book serves as a curt rebuttal, further underlined by the broad geographical base it draws upon. We Are Not in Pakistan is a collection of short stories in which voices from the Ukraine, Mexico, India, Greece and the United States clamor for attention, drawing the reader into intimate confidences that bear enough universal semblance that they succeed in blurring geographical boundaries.

  In the title story an angry young woman of mixed descent sharpens her knife-edged insecurities against her Pakistani grandmother. “Only a Button” recounts the Chernobyl disaster through the eyes of a subservient Russian housewife whose husband oversees the reactor that so disastrously malfunctioned. In “The Distance Between Us” the author delves into the racism leveled at those of Eastern descent after 9/11. Anxiety, fear, hope and our fierce protective instincts are emotions with a universal currency that is exchanged generously in Singh’s neat prose. The author reads from her new collection of stories at the Harry W. Schwartz Bookshop in Shorewood, June 10, at 7 p.m.

  Also this week, a group of women involved in the visual, literary and performing arts, led by former Milwaukee Poet Laureate Peggy Hong and actress/director Deborah Clifton, seeks to convey the human face of the Iraq war. Using blogs and memoirs written by Iraqi and American women civilians and military members, the ensemble has collaborated on a play titled Small Pieces Fly to Heaven that combines elements of poetry, movement, drama and art. The performance previews June 2-4. Its regular run takes place June 5-8 at Off-Broadway Theatre, 342 N. Water St. To purchase tickets, call (414) 278-0765.