Outside People and Other Stories
short fiction by Mariam Pirbhai

166 Pages
October 05, 2017
New Fiction All Titles Stories Short Fiction



Outside People and Other Stories short fiction by Mariam Pirbhai

A Haitian woman survives the ravages of an earthquake only to find her sister, an émigré in Montreal, the subject of a grisly crime. A chambermaid in a Mexican tourist resort frequented by Canadian tourists wonders why all the men in her life seem to leave her for distant lands. A Jamaican migrant worker at an Ontario chicken farm comes to the aid of his Peruvian co-worker on the eve of a fatal car accident. And a young Pakistani-Canadian woman finds herself in the midst of a protest march defending Muslim women's rights on the same day she has agreed to meet her Moroccan lover. The diverse cast of characters that energize Mariam Pirbhai's Outside People and Other Stories not only reflects a multicultural Canada but also the ease with which this striking debut collection inhabits the voices and perspectives of nation, hemisphere, and world. 

"With clear-eyed compassion, generosity and literary brilliance, Mariam Pirbhai has deftly illuminated characters whose lives in literature are usually relegated to the shadows of the mainstream. In doing so she has given much needed, long-overdue breath to a cast of characters who create the landscape even as they have been, until now, invisible in it. As Diane Arbus is to photography, so is Mariam Pirbhai to literature—bringing forth the margins, but nobly, with understanding and an unusual generosity in her handling of contemporary society's machinations."

— Shani Mootoo, author of Cereus Blooms at Night and Moving Forward Sideways Like a Crab?

"What a stunning debut this collection, Outside People and Other Stories, is for Mariam Pirbhai. These stories transport us into the lives mainly of newcomers to the Canadian landscape. The broad range of characters includes first-and second-generation Canadians, new citizens, temporary workers and even a worker in a resort in Mexico that caters to numerous Canadian clients. The power of the stories lies in the author’s success at capturing the worlds of the marginalized and racialized so vividly, with such understanding and compassion, that we cannot ignore or dismiss their humanity. Indeed, we are enriched by it. This book deserves a wide readership."

— Mary Lou Dickinson, author of Would I Lie to You? and The White Ribbon Man

"With intelligence and command of her craft, Pirbhai invites us into the lives . . . of the émigré and following generation(s): from Pakistan, India, Morocco, Jamaica, Mexico, Japan, Philippines, Haiti. As a result of the portability of technological skills, rapid global communication, and mobility across continents, "outside people" find themselves in a state of displacement and . . . sense their "otherness" as perceived through the eyes of others. Outside People and Other Stories views the world and humanity through a wide-angled lens. Give it a read. It will both entertain and enlighten."

—Rhoda Rabinowitz Green, author of Aspects of Nature

Mariam Pirbhai was born in Pakistan, and lived in England and the Philippines before emigrating to Canada. She lives in Waterloo, Ontario, where she is an Associate Professor in the Department of English and Film Studies, at Wilfrid Laurier University. Pirbhai has published several academic books in the field of postcolonial and diaspora studies. Her short stories have also appeared in numerous anthologies and literary journals. Outside People and Other Stories is her debut collection of short fiction.

Outside People and Other Stories by Mariam Pirbhai
reviewed by The Miramichi Reader - October 21, 2017

Mariam Pirbhai was born in Pakistan and lived in England and the Philippines before emigrating to Canada. She lives in Waterloo, Ontario, where she is an Associate Professor in the Department of English and Film Studies, at Wilfrid Laurier University. Her short stories have also appeared in numerous anthologies and literary journals.

Outside People and Other Stories (2017, Inanna Publications) is her debut collection of short fiction. I am fascinated by stories, fictional or otherwise of the immigrant's experience in coming to a new country and adjusting to the western way of life. Outside People and Other Stories contains nine expertly crafted works of short fiction about such experiences. Told either from the viewpoint of the person in their new country (Canada, in this instance) or from the point of view of the family left behind, we are given a glimpse, albeit brief into the lives and thoughts of such persons, typically from a woman's perspective. Ms Pirbhai has us peer into the lives of chambermaids, migrant workers, bankers, factory workers, maids, a cancer victim and a Haitian woman whose sister was a victim of a senseless crime thousands of miles away in Montreal.

The Outside People

Some of Ms Pirbhai's characters are "outside" as respects being outside their native country (the usual case), and outside of their areas of experience and training, such as is the case with Radha Chatterjee, a woman with degrees in English and Education, who cannot get a position in Canada as a teacher:

She understood that a woman in a sari, a long black plait and a red dot on her forehead was not qualified to relate to a roomful of North American teenagers. She understood that in this country her qualifications were no better than a weight around a drowning man's neck.

That excerpt is from "Crossing Over" my personal favourite of the nine stories here. It is about two couples, one doing well financially (Krishna and Radha), the other (Tariq and Mumtaz) not so much since coming to Canada.

Their vastly different trajectories to the West filled the space between them [Krishna and Tariq] with epic tension, Krishna looking on their migration with unqualified pride and Tariq looking on his with unqualified resentment.

Another favourite was "Sunshine Guarantee" which is the story of Lucita, a chambermaid working in a Mexican vacation resort. Her brother has emigrated to Canada, and her son has met a girl from Guyana and may be moving to Europe with her. Lucita lives with her mother who is suffering from dementia. There's a lot Lucita doesn't understand, such as what a sunshine guarantee is. Angelica, a front desk staff explains that the "gringos" expect sun, not rain, when on vacation. If it rains, they get something for free, like a day at the spa or a snorkelling lesson.

"You know how much the gringos love free stuff. Mira: people like you think that nothing good comes for free, and working hard is the only way to heaven. But most people think that because nothing comes for free, heaven must be a place where you get more for less. And Mexico is where the gringos come to get more for less. I bet you didn't know you're already in heaven, Lucita. Now you can forfeit next Sunday's confession and live a little."


Notable is the fact that each of the nine stories are infused with words and phrases in the storyteller's native language, adding authenticity and realism to the narratives. There is even a Glossary at the back of the book that translates these for those of us not fluent in Spanish, Hindi/Urdu, French, Arabic, Tagalog and island Creoles. Most refreshing is the fact that Ms Pirbhai has felt no need to tell these stories with any unnecessary profanity or unwarranted adult content. I would venture to say Outside People would be enjoyed by mature young adult readers too.

In short, Outside People and Other Stories is an exceptional group of short narratives that are appealing, insightful and a treat to read. Rhoda Rabinowitz Green, the author of Aspects of Nature, says of Outside People: "Outside People and Other Stories views the world and humanity through a wide-angled lens. Give it a read. It will both entertain and enlighten." I thoroughly agree, and this collection will go on my 2018 longlist for The Very Best! Awards in the short fiction category.

From “Air Raids”

     It was Kostas who told her the life story of Plateau Mont Royal, so named
for the city and the little mountain that stood at its epicentre. Though it
was renowned as the Latin quarter because of its thriving francophone
enclaves of artists, intellectuals and, increasingly, Beamer-driving yuppies,
this was but a recent incarnation. It had belonged, not so long ago, to the
new immigrants and to the worker, as much as any set of streets, parks,
schools, shops, and houses could belong to anyone. One community
squeezed out the other. Apparently, that was the way it worked around
here. No one ever referred to it as a cause-and-effect relationship, but,
like the green and white flowers block-printed on her summer dress, the
pattern was hard to ignore. “Look at Park Extension!” Kostas lamented,
referring to his own working-class neighbourhood just north of the
Plateau. His family had lived there for three generations. Now one could
barely buy a decent souvlaki or find a reliable travel agent on the entire
stretch of rue Jean Talon between l’Acadie and avenue du Parc. Since it
had morphed from Little Greece to Little India, he said, his family had
joined the exodus west and north, into the new developments outside
the city limits.
     In fact, she had wanted to correct him, his beloved neighbourhood was
not so much a Little India as it was a Little Pakistan, where local businesses
had names like 786 or Khan Brothers Video and Paan Shop, at least since the
border territories of the country she was born in—a sublime region carved
out of the Himalayan ranges that her parents described as the “Switzerland
of the East”—had become an arena for massive refugee camps, U.S. drone
attacks, and cross-border warfare. And the Little Pakistan that was changing
the face of the city’s western half was only matched by the ever-burgeoning
Petit Maghreb in the city’s eastern half. She imagined them merging at
the mountain’s summit, their shared symbols of Arabic calligraphy, halal
butchers, colourful clothing stores, mosques and tea-houses, strangely
fusing together a city otherwise divided by language and history.

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