The best polyphonic story collections

Why am I passionate about this?

Perhaps because I get bored easily, or maybe because I hear voices, I have found that my writing lends itself to exploration (different points of view, traditions, styles). I write to learn and to play. I distrust writers whose characters all sound like them, live lives like their own. It feels completely unfanciful, completely disinterested in the long literary tradition of make-believe. Writing and reading, at the end of the day, are ways for me to escape boredom meaningfully, and why should I wish to do that with stories that don’t offer up a small amount of the great kaleidoscope that is life?


I wrote...

I Am My Country: And Other Stories

By Kenan Orhan,

Book cover of I Am My Country: And Other Stories

What is my book about?

Spanning decades and landscapes, from the forests along the Black Sea to the streets of Istanbul, Kenan Orhan’s ​playful stories ​conjure dreamlike worlds—of talking animals, flying houses, and omniscient prayer-callers—to ​examine humanity’s unfaltering pursuit of hope in even the darkest circumstances.

A determined florist trains a neighborhood stray dog to blow up a corrupt president. A garbage collector finds banned instruments—and later, musicians—in the trash and takes them home to form a clandestine orchestra in her attic. A smuggler risks his life to bring a young woman claiming to be pregnant via immaculate conception across the border with Syria. These characters are united by a desperate yearning to break free from the volatile realities they face: rising authoritarianism, cultural and political turmoil, and staggering violence.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of I Am an Executioner: Love Stories

Kenan Orhan Why did I love this book?

This collection starts with an incredibly tender and starcrossed tale of romance, but from the point of view of a tiger in the zoo who has fallen in love with its handler, and ends with a moving story of the struggles of fatherhood as relayed by an insectoid alien from a faraway planet recently colonized by humans.

Regardless of how frequently the reader might feel off-footed by the varied narrators, the payoff is always immense. These are equal parts delicate and vicious tales about love in all its grotesque forms.

There is a greater unity throughout the world than I am often able to see, and collections like this not only erode the differences between peoples and cultures, but even between species, and remind us that life in all its forms is vibrant, traumatic, and significant.

By Rajesh Parameswaran,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked I Am an Executioner as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A Bengal tiger wakes up one morning realising he is ravenously in love. A pompous railway supervisor in a remote Indian province bites off more than he can chew when a peculiar new clerk arrives on his doorstep. In another place and in another time, a secret agent who spends her days watching the front door of an unknown quarry discovers something she isn't meant to. An immigrant housewife in a Midwestern town geeing up for Thanksgiving makes a wish she may come to regret. And a small and famous country's only executioner claims his conscience is as clean as…


Book cover of The Trojan War Museum: and Other Stories

Kenan Orhan Why did I love this book?

Whether we are told a story by the collective voice of dying and dead girls after a horrific accident, or one about an Ottoman wrestling champ on a world tour, or even the reflections of the god Apollo on the human affinity for war, Bucak is adept at bringing the reader along as a confidant through some truly bizarre tales (one of my favorites is about the chess-playing robot “the Turk” falling in love).

Whether the story is close to its characters or respectfully removed, the tenderness and care the writer gives to evocatively portraying so many different stories is at the forefront so even if they might not be as tonally different as some others in this list, they make such diverse threads feel unified and, together, satisfying.

By Ayse Papatya Bucak,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Trojan War Museum as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In Ayse Papatya Bucak's dreamlike narratives, dead girls recount the effects of an earthquake and a chess-playing automaton falls in love. A student stops eating and no one knows whether her act is personal or political. A Turkish wrestler, a hero in the East, is seen as a brute in the West. The anguish of an Armenian refugee is "performed" at an American fund-raiser. An Ottoman ambassador in Paris amasses a tantalizing collection of erotic art. And in the masterful title story, the Greek god Apollo confronts his personal history and bewails his Homeric reputation as he tries to memorialize,…


Book cover of Like You'd Understand Anyway

Kenan Orhan Why did I love this book?

Similar to The Trojan War Museum, these stories are tonally more in synch (after all, with a title like that, it’s hard to overstate the role attitude plays in these), but also like Trojan War Museum, it’s a wonderful collection that shows how absolutely not-repetitive an attitude can feel when its voices are given such specific and niche jargons for each story, such interesting and far-flung locales and, such wacky and hopeless situations for its characters to overcome.

Jim Shepard is a must read for anyone interested in writing against the adage: “write what you know”. Also, the story “Zero Meter Diving Team” is one of my all time favorites.

By Jim Shepard,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Like You'd Understand Anyway as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Following his widely acclaimed Project X and Love and Hydrogen—“Here is the effect of these two books,” wrote the Chicago Tribune: “A reader finishes them buzzing with awe”—Jim Shepard now gives us his first entirely new collection in more than a decade.

Like You’d Understand, Anyway reaches from Chernobyl to Bridgeport, with a host of narrators only Shepard could bring to pitch-perfect life. Among them: a middle-aged Aeschylus taking his place at Marathon, still vying for parental approval. A maddeningly indefatigable Victorian explorer hauling his expedition, whaleboat and all, through the Great Australian Desert in midsummer. The first woman in…


Book cover of Inheritors

Kenan Orhan Why did I love this book?

Though these stories are actually linked, told over a century and a half through many generations of one family, the characters are so different that what acts as the unifying thread for this book more than anything is its exploration of imperialism’s traumas, perpetrated, experienced, and inherited.

Like my own work that seeks to explore a country’s identity through many different members and eras, Serizawa paints a portrait of Japan before and after the Second World War in breathtaking scope to remind us that events in history have much longer roots and much greater reaches than we recognize. 

By Asako Serizawa,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Inheritors as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Winner of the PEN/Open Book Award
Winner of The Story Prize Spotlight Award

A kaleidoscopic portrait of five generations scattered across Asia and the United States, Inheritors is a heartbreakingly beautiful and brutal exploration of a Japanese family fragmented by the Pacific side of World War II. A retired doctor is forced to confront the moral consequences of his wartime actions. His brother’s wife, compelled to speak of a fifty-year-old murder, reveals the shattering realities of life in Occupied Japan. Half a century later, her estranged American granddaughter winds her way back East, pursuing her absent father’s secrets. Decades into…


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Book cover of Liddy-Jean Marketing Queen and the Matchmaking Scheme

Mari Sangiovanni

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