Book Review — The Icicle by Narinder Jit Kaur

The Icicle by Narinder Jit Kaur

The Icicle by Narinder Jit Kaur is a brilliantly woven book of twelve short stories which takes us through the human experiences of self-hatred, guilt, pride, suffering and unrequited love. Covering different time periods, the stories span across a vast canvas of human relationships and psyche.

From the partition of India to the horrific COVID pandemic, we come face to face with reality peeping into the lives of the characters. Narinder Jit Kaur has a deep understanding of human emotions blended with human experiences under different circumstances. Prasanna Kkumar of The Fertile Brains calls it an apt-themed spatiotemporal magnificence. What I liked the most about the stories is that the protagonists have their negative sides that have been communicated without any restriction under different settings.

These transformative stories start with Sonia and Tara playing the main characters in ‘The Lonely Woman from Banikhet’ wherein Sonia is a twelve-year-old granddaughter of Tara Devi however she behaves like a sixteen-year-old which made me question if the writer has done justice to this character given that I too have a daughter of her age. As the story unfolds giving insight into Sonia and Nani’s past, everything seems to make sense and one cannot appreciate the writing acumen of the author enough.  The character of Tara Devi is starkly different from Sarla Bua in ‘The Reverse Circle’ which has been narrated in first person. Sarla Bua is a kind and jovial person whom the narrator regards as a superwoman. But when the life of Bua is narrated to the narrator upon constantly nudging her mother, she cannot believe the extent of Bua’s misery. She says, “She gave more to life than what she got in return…But what looked beautiful and smooth was full of potholes and rough patches.” In the end, the narrator gets redemption when Sarla Bua takes control of her life at an age when people hardly dare to venture out.

‘Those Four Days’ was particularly a difficult read for me, as it brought back the scenes of people dying due to the lack of oxygen cylinders and hospital beds. These memories are so fresh and reliving it was torturous for me. This story is told from the perspective of a dying elderly woman (written in first person) whose heart dampens at the thought of how her old septuagenarian partner would survive without her. Conversely, ‘The Silent Conversation’ subtly freshened the wounds of domestic violence period in my life. The beauty of this short story lies in getting the solution to Avni’s problem from the main character of her own novel.

The eclecticism of the author’s writing is reflected in the seventh story ‘From Ground Zero’ which showcases the exchange of emails between two lovers from two different cultural backgrounds. Alex and Sunitha’s love blossoms in New York, Sunitha dies in the 9/11 attack and Alex brings the news of particular resolution to Sunitha’s mother in India. Multiple layers of this story make the reader vacillate from one conclusion to another, but I would call it a story of the journey from losing romantic love to finding motherly love.

Shibu’s emotions are conveyed delicately in a rebellious setting in ‘The Icicle’ — a love story frozen in guilt and self-hatred. Then, ‘The Epiphany’ has Jagira, a fifteen-year-old daily wager, who finds the purpose of his life in being a contributor to the Indian soldiers’ win in the Kargil War. In the same vein, there is the story of an eight-year-old beggar who refuses to cry at her father’s death. While reading this story, I imagined Narinder Jit Kaur sitting by her window watching the life of this beggarly family every day as she pens down Kamli’s inner dilemma and her mother’s behaviour towards her. ‘The Breadwinner’ makes us come face-to-face with the ugly struggles of the lowest strata of society. The same society where people like Priya in ‘Peanuts and Cheese Balls’ keeps on living with their false pride and would not bow down no matter what comes their way. These stories make the reader probe who really is happy.

The unrealized love of Deepak in ‘A Second Chance That Wasn’t’ cleverly deals with his decade-old hurt and resentment which heal at the end when his childhood memories play one-after-another making him understand what makes a woman strong. The stories end with Simran’s interaction with Piyush in ‘Hit and Run’ which comes as an unexpected twist in the story.

The stories are diverse from the soured relationships that turned aggressively fatal during the partition of Punjab in 1947 to a foreigner falling in love with an Indian girl in New York and losing her in the ghastly 9/11 incident. If there is one story which I would love to see on screen then it definitely is ‘Who Killed Me’. Nimmo’s fate was pre-decided by the patriarchal set-up but she chose to kill herself which made all the difference. It is an impactful historical fiction that needs to be read by every man and woman globally to know who suffers the most during riots. Dr. Roopali Sircar Gaur discussed at length this story and called the killings of girls in the name of honour a crime against humanity.

Narinder Jit Kaur intrigues the reader with compelling storytelling where the existential crisis of the characters is a major play but the settings are equally graphic and realistic. Her command over literary and creative aspects of the language is apparent in her style of writing. Dr. Gargi Saha calls the stories a poetic expression of the author through the use of simile, metaphor, personification, vivid imagery, and lucid language. After reading the stories, no one can disagree with her.

The Icicle has diverse settings from non-descript villages to sprawling cities, from hospital beds to train journeys, and from the forest in Jharkhand to the WTC in New York. The author equally treats the reader with multi-hued characters from rebellions called terrorists to a Scottish man, from an unrecognized wife to a submitting one, and from a mother beating and starving her daughter for getting used to life ahead to a mother negating her daughter’s love to protect her life ahead. The human emotions and experiences are universal even though the features are predominantly Indian.

Jenniffer MacMohan’s words hold true for the author, “Storytelling isn’t about making things up. It is more like inviting the stories to come through and let themselves be told.” Narinder Jit Kaur rightly wrote in her Preface that these stories had lived in her for years together.

Purchase this amazing short story collection by clicking below:

The Icicle

About Narinder Jit Kaur:

Narinder Jit Kaur, a trilingual writer, and translator, who writes with fair ease and finesse in English, Hindi, and Punjabi, is a retired Associate Professor of English, based in Patiala (Punjab). Her articles, stories, and poems in all three languages are regularly published in various Newspapers and magazines. She also has five books of translations, from Punjabi to English, to her credit, which include three novels and two collections of short stories. Her book Dawn to Dusk is a collection of 58 middle articles published in prominent newspapers. The Icicle: A Collection of Short Stories is her seventh book, her first in creative writing.

About the reviewer, author and writing coach:

Sneha Goel is a British Council–certified IELTS trainer and Scholastic India–mentored short story writer. She is a published author, poet and diarist. Her reviews, blogs, poems, stories and thoughts are appreciated by writers of international repute. Apart from writing, she is passionate about teaching English to children. She teaches English grammar, literature, creative writing, academic writing, story writing, poetry writing and Spoken English to students from class 1 up to grown-ups. To know more about her writing training and English language teaching services click here.


1 Comment


    Excellent and comprehensive review. You have caught the essence of the stories and presented with a beautiful description.

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