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Stories of Ourselves

For examination in 2024 & 2025

'The Tower'
by Marghanita Laski

Caroline is a young newlywed living in Florence with her husband, Neville. Feeling the weight of his expectations that she be interested in Italian art and culture beyond what is found in the city’s art galleries and museums, she goes off on her own one day into the Tuscan countryside. Intrigued by the ‘Tower of Sacrifice’, the only building left standing in a destroyed village, and built by the mysterious Niccolo di Ferramano in 1535, who not only had an unhealthy interest in the occult but also a young wife who died under mysterious circumstances, she resolves to ascend the tower’s 470 steps. As she climbs, however, she discovers that there is more to the tower than meets the eye…

'Dr Heidegger's Experiment'
by Nathaniel Hawthorne

The elderly Dr Heidegger invites four acquaintances to his strange study to participate in an 'experiment'. He has acquired water from the mythical 'Fountain of Youth' and thinks they are the ideal subjects to test its magical properties. He's not wrong - a formerly successful businessman who is now little more than a beggar, a disgraced and corrupt politician who is now just a 'has-been', a good-for-nothing bachelor who has wasted his life, his health and his money on drink and women, and a faded beauty who now lives more or less in hiding because she got caught up in scandals with a number of men when she was young. You would think that they would jump at the chance to live their lives over differently, taking advantage of the wisdom they have painfully acquired over the years. Oh, and one more thing, the three men almost killed each other fighting over the attentions of the lady all those years ago. What could possibly go wrong?

'The Widow's Might'
by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

The three adult McPherson children have reluctantly assembled at the family ranch in Denver, Colorado for their father's funeral and the reading of the will. They don't really want to be there as they didn't have a very warm and affectionate childhood but a sense of duty has been drilled into them their whole lives. The three of them discuss the 'problem' of what they are going to 'do' about Mother in her absence. None of them really wants the bother or expense of looking after an 'elderly' and 'broken' woman and they try to shift the responsibility from one to the other. Their mother, dressed in a long black cloak and veil, finally makes an entrance - and drops a bombshell that no one sees coming.

'The Reservoir'
by Janet Frame

A young girl has moved along with her large family to a small New Zealand town where clean drinking water is supplied by the mysterious Reservoir. Prohibited from going there due to the risk of drowning, the children are forced to use their wild imaginations to fill in the blanks of their knowledge about it. One hot summer, when the schools are all shut due to an epidemic of polio, the children abandon their studies to go down to the creek which leads to the Reservoir. It's only a matter of time before one of them suggests they break the rules...

'And Women Must Weep'
by Henry Handel Richardson

Dolly is about to go to her first 'grown-up' ball with her Auntie Cha. She's so excited that she's been counting down the days. She has never felt so pretty in her new dress which has been made especially for her to her own specification (muslin rather than silk) and she is nervously waiting for the cab. 

Auntie Cha, however, is being quite stern with her - telling her not to look so serious or she'll frighten all the men away. Then calamity strikes - she tears off the bottom of her dress as she is getting out of the cab. Not only this, but when she sees all the other lovely dresses there, she wonders if she has made a mistake with her choice of dress after all. Will any man ask her to dance?

The Furnished Room
by O. Henry

A young man seeks a furnished room to rent in Manhattan's lower West Side at the turn of the twentieth century. He is seeking his lost love, Eloise Vashner, who has run away from home to seek fame and fortune as a musical performer in the big city. Everywhere he goes, he asks for information as to her whereabouts but has so far come up with nothing. The sinister housekeeper, Mrs Purdy, says she has no recollection of such a girl either - but does she know more than she's letting on?

Thank You, M'am
by Langston Hughes

A bungled street robbery leads to an extraordinary encounter between the young and naïve Roger, a neglected 'latchkey' kid, and the formidable Mrs Luella Bates Washington Jones, a single woman walking home alone after a late shift working in a hotel beauty shop. In this briefest of stories about second chances and intergenerational relationships, Roger not only learns the true meaning of what it is to be thankful but also that what we have in common is far greater than what divides us.

Sharmaji
by Anjana Appachana (Part 1)

In this short story, Appachana creates a detailed and vibrant portrait of the incorrigible Sharma, a middle-aged clerk in the purchase department of a Delhi manufacturing company, as we follow him over the course of one day. Disillusioned with his job and permanently aggrieved that no one gives him the respect he feels he is owed, Sharma has arrived late for the fourteenth time this month. We follow Sharma, a work-shy chancer with the gift of the gab, as he navigates his day. He comes perilously close to losing his job as he takes on Mahesh, the clerk in the personnel department, Miss Das, the personnel manager and Mr Borwankar, his manager in the purchase department. Has he pushed his luck too far this time?

Sharmaji
by Anjana Appachana (Part 2)

In this second video, I pick up the story at the point where Sharma has gone in search of Adesh, the general secretary of the workers' union to demand that he help him get out of the hot water he's got himself into. Is Adesh up to the job or will Sharma get the boot? Surely Sharma's position in the company is no longer tenable unless he can get Miss Das on his side…

Mrs Mahmood
by Segun Afolabi (Part 1)

In this short story, we meet Mr Mahmood, a Nigerian living in London with his wife, Isobel. The manager of a busy sports shop on Tottenham Court Road, he is plagued by feelings of inadequacy, self-doubt and dissatisfaction. His pursuit and apprehension of a teenaged shoplifter triggers a flashback to the day, when he was seventeen, that his dreams of being a celebrated runner died. A soul-searching journey begins as he explores his feelings of anger, frustration and regret. How will he feel when an Olympic athlete comes into the shop with his son to buy a pair of trainers?

Mrs Mahmood
by Segun Afolabi (Part 2)

Mr Mahmood has come home early after his confrontation with the teenaged shoplifter. His wife's laidback reaction to what has happened and to what he almost did unsettles him and, a little drunk, he decides that he wants to go for a drive around the city to clear his head. A few weeks later, he reaches a tipping point - the arrival of an Olympian athlete in his sports shop is too much for him to bear. Unable to confront what he himself might have been, he walks out and gets on the first bus he sees. Will he try to escape from a life that he believes has been only mediocre... or will he come to a new understanding...?

A Thousand Years of Good Prayers
by Yiyun Li (Part 1)

Mr Shi, a retired Chinese rocket scientist, has come to pay an extended visit with his daughter in a town in the American Mid-West. By day, he spends his time in the nearby park, talking to 'Madam', an elderly Iranian lady he has befriended, even though they both speak little English. By night, he cooks traditional Chinese meals for his newly-divorced daughter and encourages her to speak about her life. The more he talks, however, the less she responds and she goes out of her way to avoid him. As the story progresses, Mr Shi's daughter begins to broach the topic of his own silence and lack of communication when she was growing up. Mr Shi confides in Madam that he wishes he and his daughter had a better relationship but that what she doesn't understand is that the highly confidential nature of his job did not allow him to speak of it.

 

'A Thousand Years of Good Prayers' is a poignant story exploring the linguistic, cultural and emotional barriers that lead to inter-generational conflict and fractured relationships. Will Mr Shi and his daughter ever be able to bridge the yawning emotional chasm between them?

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