“Philosophy of the Foot”
by Taymour Soomro
from the January 7, 2019 issue of The New Yorker

Happy New Year, everyone! As the year begins, The New Yorker is treating us to a fresh voice. “Philosophy of the Foot” is Taymour Soomro’s first publication, to my knowledge, so I think all of us are getting to know his work at the same time. I hope it’s the promising start to a career as well as a promising start to another year of reading the fiction published in The New Yorker.

“Philosophy of the Foot” begins with the sudden appearance of a makeshift stall outside of a home going through the changes of a generation. At the stall, a young boy fixes shoes, itself a dying art.

I hope you’ll all share your thoughts about Soomro’s story below. Welcome to another year, and may it be a great one!

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By |2019-01-01T02:40:17-04:00January 1st, 2019|Categories: New Yorker Fiction, Taymour Soomro|Tags: |8 Comments

8 Comments

  1. Larry Bone January 1, 2019 at 7:22 pm

    Taymour Soomro’s short story, “Philosophy of the Foot” takes an interesting viewpoint on Karachi and Pakistan gauged into the forward march of time/one’s life/survival/existence. It has an interesting arc from local village or city town upbringing to that of a world urban successful son outsider coming back to visit his mother, who has fallen on hard times. The sense descriptions of Karachi being a city by the sea nicely locate the story in place and time. The protagonist, Amer, is kind of stuck between cultures between the dying out of an older one and the looking forwards on a visit back home to a new future that is uncertain. The metaphor of foot functions as a touchstone to the basic nature of a person’s restless soul having to move foward (like on New Year’s Day). A shoe on a foot is sort of like having to have a job or some way to fund one’s forward progress. The shoe or what one has to do, wears on a person’s foot or soul (sole being the soul’s (foot’s) imprint where it meets the ground or path one takes in life). If the soul of shoe spirit can bear the pressure, there is no wearing away on the shoe or upon one’s mind, tension or stress to lessen one’s existence. Amer’s father successfully functioned well in politics but at the end of that it didn’t leave a good future for Amer’s family. And the uncertain of one’s future existence runs alongside a parallel track of the failure or uncertainty of love. Though Amer’s attraction to the young shoe repairer is somewhat similar to an older man”s attraction to a younger woman beneath his social status, love is reduced to the dominance one partner secures over the other by dint of social inequality. So that the younger man who seems in some ways, wiser about life rejects Amer’s love possibly out of not being able to endure the other’s sexual dominance for the sake of a more comfortable future. There are echoes of Me Too in a gay context here. This story seems to hint at the failure and uncertainty of a frail society stumbling into its future. A somewhat gloomy and not very hopeful New Years’ first New Yorker short story but one that seems quite in touch with the overall vibe of the new year.

  2. David January 4, 2019 at 8:58 am

    I was fairly unimpressed with this story. It reminded me of “The Start Of The Affair” by Nuruddin Farah, which The New Yorker published in 2014. There, the older person is both much older and also white, but the power dynamic is not very different. Farah’s story isn’t great, but it has everything Soomro’s story has and a lot more. The idea of clandestine attractions between people of the same sex is nothing at all new, and I don’t see what the point of this story is in the end.
    .
    One issue Soomro glosses over, and would seem to be a bit more important to establish, is the age of the “boy”. We are told throughout that he is a “boy” and he is “perhaps in his late teens”, which means that perhaps he is not in his late teens as well. But if he is a “boy” and not in his late teens it seems unlikely he is leaving open the possibility that the boy is 20 and more likely he is saying that maybe the boy is in his mid-teens. Trevor, you describe him as a “young boy”, which is a term I would not use for someone who is at least a teenager, but this boy could be 15 or 16, if not younger. We also don’t know how old Amer is, except for the passing reference to him having turned down the opportunities to go to Oxford and Cambridge and the implication he would have graduated by now. I’m not sure why Soomro decided to be so vague about age that he allows that maybe the boy is 19 and maybe he is 14, but his vagueness makes it harder to know what to make of the boy’s interaction with Amer. The fact that Amer does not seem to care how old the boy is or even what his name is (he never gets one) seems to say something of a predatory nature, but there is little if any payoff to this.
    .
    It seems to me like a half-baked (or less baked) story that perhaps The New Yorker liked for it’s exotica of being a story about a same-sex attracted Indian man. There really does not seem to be more to this than just that. Disappointing way to end 2018.

  3. Ken January 4, 2019 at 5:21 pm

    I thought that the ellipses in this functioned interestingly and that the story does interesting things with time. It’s not an unclear story on the sentence-by-sentence basis but it does two interesting, oblique things
    1. Even though the passage of time is clearly presented it is not highlighted as dramatically and instead we suddenly jump forward at points even within a paragraph as on the first page where Amer finds items in his father’s Gucci loafers one night and then (without changing to a new paragraph) we jump to “He takes the shoes to the boy in the morning.’ Similarly, he goes up and downstairs rather rapidly as with this transition: ” ‘I don’t sell shoes,’ the boy says ‘But bring them.’ Upstairs his mother and the ayah are arguing…”. It’s kind of like using straight or shock cuts rather than dissolves or fades in a film which are usually what is used to indicate time passing.
    2. External details will often be “cut” to and given equal importance to the main story. For instance, “They order tea from the seller up the road. A family on a motorbike swerves to avoid an S.U.V. coming the wrong way…” and then a paragraph about their surroundings, again this is clear enough (as are the jumps in time) but the “cutting” seems quick and somewhat random.
    The major ellipsis, of course, is between the last two sections and would involve the actual success of and ramifications of the seduction.
    Altogether, I liked this story and thought it transcended the sort of ethnographically interesting but stylistically artless fiction such as “Cattle Praise Song” from earlier this year.

  4. Gil Cass January 5, 2019 at 4:42 pm

    I read as a bloodhound would. If the scent is familiar, of course, I follow it; especially if it has been rewarding in the past. If the scent is unfamiliar, as here, I am a natural fool for it, as I search for meaning both mine and the author’s. This unfolded for me as a story of love and longing almost immediately. I moved down its desperate path to its futile, sad conclusion. The boy; the man – in my world it connects to Mann in Venice; to Fitzgerald in West Egg. The yearning is palatable. It’s a big story.

  5. Avery W. January 7, 2019 at 11:34 am

    I found the writing to be a bit too careful and mannered. The boy seemed too “wise” and there was something removed about the protagonist, so removed that he seemed rather more a vessel of frozen disappointment and depression than a flesh and blood person with an active mind and real feelings. Any comparison to Fitzgerald or Mann seems way off the mark.

  6. Gil Cass January 7, 2019 at 12:44 pm

    Yeah, I figured I would face push back on Mann and Fitzgerald. I regularly have my students make cognitive connections to what they read as a form of ownership or participation. Often, they are not yet connected to the literature of the Indian subcontinent but they recognize love and loss when they see it so I honor it. Teachable moment, I guess.

  7. Larry Bone January 7, 2019 at 2:05 pm

    Everyone can see one story so many different ways. And there is much that is noticed or not noticed depending on one’s sensitivity to what’s being presented. South Asia is a whole different world in so many ways. So it is good to read a short story about Pakistan and the by the ocean town of Karachi even if we might focus differently on different things in this story.

  8. Gil Cass January 7, 2019 at 5:09 pm

    Yes, the reader completes the arc of meaning in any art form.

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