All The Names They Used For God

Reviewed by Amy Gruzesky

This debut collection of nine short stories by Anjali Sachdeva is mesmerizing, enchanting, and sometimes jarring, but definitely worth reading.

The book is the winner of the Chautauqua Prize, was long-listed for the Story Prize, and was named one of the Best Books of the Year by NPR.

One of the things I particularly enjoyed is that the stories are all different in terms of the characters, settings, and genre: some deal with the everyday–everyday people in everyday places, others have an element of fantasy and the supernatural, and several are haunting and sad. However, the one thing they have in common is that the characters in each story are dealing with things that are beyond their control, things that just so happened to happen to them or people in their lives, leaving them to deal with the aftermath. The only real control they have is in how they choose to deal with the circumstances and situations they have been dealt.

In some instances, they opt for trying to escape their reality, causing them to develop a somewhat cavalier disregard for personal danger. In fact, in several of the stories, the characters seem to embrace danger and go out of their way to put themselves in it.

In the story “The World by Night,” a lonely young woman finds a surprising sense of solace by escaping alone into an underground cave, risking life and limb to return to the place, knowing it is dangerous, but still unable to resist the urge to explore its depths and enjoy the sense of belonging and peace she feels there.

In “Logging Lake,” a man accompanies a woman he only recently met on an online dating site on a camping trip, following her, against his better judgement, into a restricted wildlife area populated by wolves, and wakes up alone to find her missing without a trace.

In the title story, two young women kidnapped by soldiers in their native land find a surprising way to deal with the horrors they experience, and are able to regain control of their lives when they learn the secret of hypnotizing men and use their newfound powers on their kidnappers, who are now their husbands.

In “Robert Greenman and the Mermaid,” a professional fisherman has a chance encounter with a mermaid while on a fishing expedition, and chooses to leave his wife and home to return to the sea in hopes of seeing the mythical creature again. In fact, he not only goes on more fishing trips, which are dangerous in and of themselves, but he risks hypothermia and drowning to set out on the ocean at night, in a raft away from the fishing boat, in hopes of getting close to the mermaid once again.

These are just some of the stories in this work that will grab your attention and spark your imagination, while also tugging at your emotions. I found myself rooting for some of these characters, wanting them to find the peace, contentment, and happy endings they so badly wanted. I also found myself hoping the antagonists got their just rewards. There is a little bit of both within this collection.

All The Names They Used for God is a book that will have you thinking about these stories and characters long after you put it down.

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