by Leela Devi Panikar,
Leela Devi Panikar's Penang won BBC World's 'My Hometown' writing competition in 2006 for good reason. In 200 words the piece not only captured the Malaysian island's diversity (colours, flavours, ethnic mixture) but also nailed the familiarity particular to small communities that rarely forget their own. Penang - which fronts her collection Floating Petals - prepares readers for the 14 short stories that follow, many of which espouse the format's golden rule of making every word count. The Shadow is one. A surreal yet touching tale, it is narrated by a woman's constant companion who comes into being only when there is light. This entity, who observes her life up close yet never stands in judgment, sees her agonising over a married lover and tries to save for lonely nights the joy she feels during their secret meetings. A different creature appears in The Singeing Shadow, but this time it is a malevolent spirit. Unfortunately, Panikar gives it shape (like a large tadpole) instead of leaving it to the imagination of her readers, which may have been more effective. The stories are set in Hong Kong and other parts of Asia, which gives them geographical coherence but only as a slight binding thread. As Panikar says about her tales: 'All they have in common is me.'